The Sturgeon: facts & figures

The Acipenseriformes or sturgeons and Paddlefish are large sized, late maturing ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii) with an average life span ranging from 12 - 80 years, depending on species; some individuals of the larger species may live 140 years or more.

The order consists of two extant families, Acipenseridae with five genera and 26 species; and Polyodontidae with one genus and two species. The family includes anadromous and freshwater species of circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere (USA, Canada, Europe, Siberia, the Caspian Black and Azov Seas, China and Japan).

They are adapted to live in the large lakes, and extensive river systems that provide the diverse habitat they require for all or part of their life history. Although many species are adapted to live in marine environments along the coast, all spawn in freshwater. The Caspian Sea, with an area of 400, 000 km2, is the largest inland salt-water body in the world, and home to the greatest variety and number of sturgeons in a single water body, with 6 species. Many species undergo spawning migrations and other movements that take them across international borders.

These characteristics make sturgeon vulnerable to the impacts of human activities, especially capture for caviar and meat, as well as habitat loss and degradation from damming of rivers and pollution. Historically, exploitation and fishing (including poaching) have caused drastic declines in targeted species, however many species are also indirectly impacted as bycatch in fisheries for other fish species.

Goals and Objectives SSG

The goal of the Sturgeon Specialist Group is to promote restoration of sturgeon species in the wild and their habitats through development and implementation of appropriate conservation action, including sustainable use. The SSG aims to convey the urgency and scale of conservation problems faced by sturgeon to the public, students and policy makers to prevent the extinction of these valuable species popularly known as living fossils.

Work Programme and Activities SSG

SSG members are closely involved with global conservation programmes. The SSG contributes to global species status assessments for the IUCN Red List and provides information to multilateral environmental agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (See Sturgeon Conservation and CITES). The SSG also collaborates with the Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) on Sturgeon conservation programmes in the Caspian Sea.
Past and Current Action

In March 2001, SSG held its first meeting and gathered over 40 experts and caviar traders from 11 countries in Moscow, Russia to identify priorities and actions for sturgeon conservation. During the Group’s second meeting in July 2001 in Oshkosk, USA, the SSG members established five sub-committees for various disciplines within the SSG to cover:

  1. stock assessments and restocking;
  2. identification and genetic samples;
  3. aquaculture;
  4. CITES and sturgeon trade; and
  5.  ecology and environment.

Group members were expected to participate in subcommittees on the basis of their specialization and interest.

  1. The Sturgeon Specialist Group has worked in close collaboration with international organizations such as CITES for exchange of scientific information and assistance with Significant Trade Reviews.
  2. Following the proposed rule from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list Beluga Sturgeon (Huso huso) under the US Endangered Species Act in June 2002, the SSG compiled and submitted comments on the proposal.
  3.  SSG members have undertaken a re-assessment of North American sturgeon species for the 2004 Red List. The status of 12 North American acipenserid species, sub-species and recognized sub-populations were evaluated by species experts in the U.S. and, where appropriate, Canada for designation on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


Proposed Future Action

  • Undertake assessments of the effects of local management of sturgeon habitat to sturgeon conservation, re-stocking efforts and of the costs and benefits of aquaculture;
  • Develop a standard reference collection of identification samples from all species ;
  • Stimulate Creation of a gene bank to protect sturgeon biodiversity;
  • Develop species specific regional action plans
  • The 'First meeting on Conservation of Sturgeons and on Enforcement Aspects of their Inclusion in CITES Appendix II' requested that species specific regional Action Plans be developed in collaboration with the SSG to guide future conservation efforts. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) also highlights the need for national/regional/cross-boundary Sturgeon Action Plans. SSC has been producing Action Plans for many years and they are generally regarded as one of the world’s most authoritative sources of species conservation information, they also serve to strengthen the collaboration and development of the Specialist Group.
  • Collaborate with and provide advice to other sturgeon stakeholders
  • The Chair has received several proposals and requests from sturgeon stakeholders seeking the cooperation and collaboration of the SSG, as well as advice on various aspects related to sturgeons. Based on the species under consideration, the proposals and requests are forwarded to the relevant specialists within the SSG for their comments and technical assistance.

The Sturgeon Specialist Group strives hard to employ all existing scientific avenues and seek the collaboration of researchers, scientists and all those interested in sturgeons, to raise awareness of the serious situation facing sturgeons.

Mohammad Pourkazemi, Chair