Sturgeon (Caught at sea)
Acipenser, Huso spp.
Capture method — All applicable methods
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North East Atlantic
Stock detail — All Areas
Sturgeon are automatically red-rated species. Sturgeons are now greatly depleted in number - prized for their flesh and eggs (caviar). Of the 27 species of sturgeon, the IUCN classifies 16 of them as critically endangered the same status as the black rhino.
A mixture of human activities threaten their survival: key threats include the degradation of their habitat (e.g. building dams, river development and pollution), overfishing, bycatch in fisheries and climate change.
The Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso) is the species best renowned for its caviar. Its eggs currently fetch around 8,000 pounds per kg. The value of wild sturgeon caviar is so high that there is a substantial illegal fishery for sturgeon that is completely unregulated. Parts of sturgeon are used to produce leather, cosmetics, medicines, food and even glue!
Sturgeon are one of the oldest families of bony fish in existence (evolving since the Triassic period). They are all found in the northern hemisphere. They belong to the family Acipenseridae, broken down into four genera; Acipenser, Huso, Scaphirhynchus and Pseudoscaphirhynchus.
Sturgeon are distinctive for their elongated bodies, lack of scales and rows of bony plates including covering the head. Most sturgeons are anadromous bottom-feeders, spawning upstream and feeding in river deltas and estuaries. While some are entirely freshwater, very few venture into the open ocean beyond near coastal areas.
Many life-history characteristics make sturgeon vulnerable. For example, they are slow-growing & late-maturing and spawn at infrequent intervals.
Young sturgeon primarily feed on algae and bottom-living aquatic invertebrates while remaining in rivers and estuarine environments. Adult sturgeon primarily feed on fish, shellfish and other aquatic invertebrates including amphipods and even eat seal!
Criterion score: 1 info
North East Atlantic
Of the 27 species of sturgeon, the IUCN classifies 16 of them as critically endangered. Many of the other species of sturgeon are endangered or vulnerable. For example, the Beluga sturgeonas wild populations have decline by 90% over the past 60 years.
These threats are exacerbated as sturgeon are highly vulnerable. They reproduce late in life and are long-lived. For example, the European sturgeon reach sexual maturity when they are over 20 years old, living to an average 50-60 years, and potentially living well over 100 years. The Beluga sturgeon spawns every 3 -4 years.
Criterion score: 1 info
Since 1998, international trade in all species of sturgeons has been regulated under CITES owing to concerns over the impact of unsustainable harvesting of and illegal trade in sturgeon populations in the wild.
The effectiveness of management varies: some areas and species are subject to a suite of management measures such as in the US and Canada. However, due to continued threats and their high vulnerability, sturgeon remain depleted in most areas.
Potential management for most sturgeon species is associated with reducing the impact of illegal trade and overfishing of illegal stocks and finding suitable habitat to restock rivers. Enforcement of sturgeon fisheries are lacking of the speciesa distributions. Some of the major threats to many sturgeons are the loss of important habitats. Since the 1950s, the Caspian basin has lost 70% of spawning grounds for sturgeon, due to hydroelectric power stations. Pollution in the Black and Caspian Sea basins (from oil and industrial waste), have altered sturgeon reproduction potential and caused mass mortality events: in 1990, 55,000 sturgeon were reported dead in the Sea of Azov, caused by high levels of pollution.
It may not be so straightforward to just re-introduce the species into rivers: some species do not suit their original habitat due to changes in the environment (e.g. changes to the river and climate change) but also genetic problems with releasing a non-wild stock into the wild.
Aquaculture has become an increasingly viable option compared to wild-caught sturgeon.
Criterion score: 1 info
Sturgeon are mainly caught in nets. Since 1998, international trade in all species of sturgeons has been regulated under CITES - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species - owing to concerns over the impact of unsustainable harvesting of and illegal trade in sturgeon populations in the wild. There is also illegal trade in caviar, and poaching by criminal gangs is common.
Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
ReferencesGesner, J., Chebanov, M. & Freyhof, J. 2010. Huso huso. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T10269A3187455. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-1.RLTS.T10269A3187455.en.
IUCN. 2018. IUCN red list: search for sturgeon. Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/search.
Johnson, T. and Iyengar, A. 2014. Phylogenetic Evidence for a Case of Misleading Rather than Mislabeling in Caviar in the United Kingdom. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 60, pp.S248-S253.
FishBase. 2016. sturgeon. Available at: http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?ID=4683&AT=sturgeon
Thieren, E., Ervynck, A., Brinkhuizen, D., Locker, A. and Van Neer, W. (2016). The Holocene occurrence ofAcipenserspp. in the southern North Sea: the archaeological record. Journal of Fish Biology, 89(4), pp.1958-1973.