In recognition of the conservation status of Sturgeon and Paddlefish, trade in all species of Acipenseriformes is regulated via inclusion in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Four species of sturgeon and paddlefish were listed in the CITES appendices by 1989. In 1997 CITES Parties agreed to include the remaining 23 species of sturgeon and paddlefish in the Appendices, and the listing entered into force in April 1998. CITES-listing aims to reduce the illegal trade of caviar on the world market; indeed the effective implementation of the CITES listing should contribute to the conservation of sturgeon stocks, particularly the sturgeon of the Caspian Sea. The Caspian region is one of the most important areas for sturgeon, and is home to the six species which collectively provide more than 90% of the world’s caviar production.

In response to concerns that trade of sturgeon products might be detrimental to the survival of species at the time of listing of all species in the Appendices, CITES Parties called for a Significant Trade Review of the species included in Appendix II. The review was Undertaken by the CITES Animals Committee. Information on the biological status, levels of catch and caviar trade was provided by Range States and independent experts and was compiled and analysed by IUCN and TRAFFIC in collaboration with the Sturgeon Specialist Group.

From information presented in the Significant Trade Review, the CITES Animals Committee concluded that for a number of species in 11 range States, non-detriment findings were not being made appropriately and the Committee recommended a significant number of tailored actions linked to strict deadlines. The Significant Trade Review led to the Paris Agreement and calls for regional stock assessments and agreements on harvest quotas. In 2001 a joint Caspian fisheries research expedition to assess stock status in the Caspian Sea was carried out by range States, in collaboration with the Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) and supported by various donors (the United Nations Development Programme, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the European Union’s TACIS programme).

Despite significant progress, further action is needed to regulate trade in caviar, meat and other Sturgeon products and to ensure that fishing levels are sustainable; in particular:

  1. The development of standardized methodologies for assessments of stocks and the effectiveness of restocking programmes;
  2. The development of market inventories to allow effective control of the domestic caviar and sturgeon meat markets;
  3. Cooperative development of trans-boundary anti-poaching units;
  4. The development of a databank with reference tissue samples of all sturgeon species in order to assess the legality of exports, and
  5.  Further work on the universal labelling system for caviar to include re-exports and local production.

Sturgeon Specialist Group assistance to CITES

The SSG works to increase scientific collaboration and raise awareness of the need for sturgeon conservation. In the short term, improving the status of Sturgeon will require the control of poaching and illegal trade, the improvement of socio-economic conditions for people that live in the areas where sturgeons occur and the improvement of regional and international co-operation through agreements for sturgeon management and conservation in the Amur River, Black Sea, Azov Sea and Caspian Sea. Longer term, habitat restoration and management projects will also be required.

SSG collaborates with the IUCN Species Programme, with TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network and a joint programme of IUCN and WWF the World Conservation Organization and with the Secretariat to the CITES Convention. SSG has been active in raising the awareness of the serious situation facing sturgeon and was instrumental in providing status information for the proposal to list all sturgeon and paddlefish species on the CITES Appendices. SSG members have contributed information to an important review of ten CITES listed Sturgeon species under the Significant Trade Process. SSG aims to use its extensive expertise to collect information on the status of the species and harvest methods and to advise on possible quota levels and where appropriate provide advice on making CITES non-detriment findings.

Learn more about the Species Programme's work on species trade and use