Human exploitation is the single largest cause of sturgeon population collapses: large declines in these species’ numbers are due to historical unsustainable fisheries. The demand for sturgeon meat and caviar means that human exploitation, both legal and illegal, remains a threat today. Dams, dikes and channels, pollution and poor water quality, and range loss are also threats to all of the species.
Washington, DC – The National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) this week listed five species of sturgeon as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of severe threats posed by human exploitation, dams and pollution. The finding comes in response to a March 2012 petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals. Sturgeon are described by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the most imperiled group of animals on earth. The five species of ancient fish live in rivers and seas in Europe and Asia.
“These magnificent fish species have inhabited our planet for more than 200 million years and are worth more than the sum of their parts,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We are thrilled that they now have the strongest possible legal protections.”
Human exploitation is the single largest cause of sturgeon population collapses: large declines in these species’ numbers are due to historical unsustainable fisheries. The demand for sturgeon meat and caviar means that human exploitation, both legal and illegal, remains a threat today. Dams, dikes and channels, pollution and poor water quality, and range loss are also threats to all of the species. Naturally small populations and slow reproductive rates increase the risk of extinction for these long-lived animals. Dams impede sturgeons’ ability to spawn, and the loss of eggs and breeding adults to the caviar trade means that depleted populations may take decades to recover.
"We are pleased for these sturgeon and equally pleased that Friends of Animals helped to tear down the barrier that for too long now has prevented these species from receiving the ESA protections they need and deserve," said Michael Harris, Director of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. "We hope this is the end of the policies at the Fisheries Service and other agencies to deny legal protections to marine species that are exploited for human consumption, including not only sturgeon, but sharks, whales, and numerous fish species."
Listing species under the Endangered Species Act is a proven effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species. Listing makes importation, selling, or possession of caviar or meat from any of these sturgeon species illegal in the United States.
The Sakhalin sturgeon, Acipenser mikadoi, can grow to eight feet in length and was historically common in Japanese markets. Today only 10 to 30 spawning adults survive.
The olive-hued Adriatic sturgeon, Acipenser naccarii, once ranged throughout the Adriatic from Italy to Greece. Their numbers have declined from exploitation for their flesh. The last known spawning in the wild occurred in the early 1980s.
The massive Chinese sturgeon, Acipenser sinensis, was deemed a major commercial resource in the 1960s. Fewer than 300 wild individuals remain today.
The European or Baltic sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, can grow 16 to 20 feet in length. Fished aggressively for caviar, now only a single potentially reproductive population in the Garonne River in France survives. The Garonne River population last spawned in 1994.
The Kaluga or Great Siberian sturgeon, Huso dauricus, is among the world’s largest freshwater fish, exceeding 18 feet in length and weighing a ton. They are heavily poached for caviar.
All sturgeon reproduce slowly, and many species require decades to reach maturity. Sturgeon do not spawn every year, and males and females often have different spawning and migration cycles, making reproduction even less certain. A further 10 sturgeon species are being evaluated for listing by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service; joint regulations protecting all 15 petitioned species would ensure the strongest protections from the caviar trade and other threats.
Return to Animal Rights Articles