IUCN SSC Red List Authority Coordinator: Leonardo Congiu
The IUCN SSC Sturgeon Specialist Group (SSG) is a global network of over 50 experts contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of sturgeons and paddlefishes.
The SSG collaborates across IUCN freshwater, marine, and terrestrial initiatives and interfaces with professional societies, national governments, and inter-governmental agencies including CITES. The SSG provides unbiased scientific advice to address the threats facing sturgeons and paddlefishes.
There are 27 species of sturgeons and paddlefishes distributed across the Northern hemisphere. While some species inhabit only freshwater, most species are anadromous, spawning in freshwater but spending much of their life history in marine or brackish environments. As such, habitats in freshwater rivers and lakes, estuary systems, and nearshore marine environments are all important for this groups of fishes. Because long-distance migration and movement is common for many species, transboundary conservation initiatives are an essential requirement for conservation. All species are late-maturing and slow-growing and do not reproduce annually, making them slow to rebound from exploitation.
Wild populations of sturgeons and paddlefishes were historically overfished for their eggs, processed and sold as black caviar. Overexploitation and illegal fishing led to the closure of nearly all legal wild fisheries. Today, most commercially-available black caviar comes from aquaculture, although illegal fishing, poaching, and trade is still problematic. Poorly regulated aquaculture practices have become an additional threat due to the escapement of captive reared non-native and hybrid sturgeons and marketplace fraud.
Habitat degradation, primarily due to damming of large rivers that many migratory sturgeons use for reproduction, has been a major driver of species decline. Dams have restricted access to spawning habitats and altered the flow and temperature regimes required for migration and rearing. Estuary habitat transformation and degradation have negatively affected juvenile recruitment. In the marine environment, some species are impacted by fisheries bycatch and other ocean pressures.
At present, ending illegal fishing and trade and restoring wild populations and their habitats are primary tasks. Applying methodologies to differentiate wild from aquaculture sturgeon products within trade is essential. Transforming the sturgeon and paddlefish aquaculture industry into one that benefits wild populations and range-state conservation is important. Employing sound and responsible rearing and release techniques within restoration programs is imperative.
The SSG will work on all of these fronts in the arenas of science, trade monitoring, and restoration and rebuilding, as well as policy initiatives through CITES and other mechanisms.