Experts Outline Action to Save Sturgeon

Gland, Switzerland, 13.2.2001 IUCN-The World Conservation Union. Scientists and caviar traders have gathered for the first time to form an action plan to halt the rapid decline of the world's sturgeon species, highly valued for both caviar and meat.

Several of the 27 sturgeon species have a high commercial value on international markets, for caviar, meat, as well as sport fishing in North America. Populations are declining through increased poaching, illegal trade, habitat loss due to dam construction (preventing migration to spawning grounds), pollution, inefficient aquaculture and re-stocking techniques, lack of regional co-operation in conservation programmes, and poor law enforcement. As sturgeon are migratory fish that regularly cross international borders as part of their life cycle, international co-operation is a critical component of any plan to conserve them.

More than 40 experts, including scientists, government and non-governmental organization representatives, and caviar traders from 11 countries gathered in Moscow over the weekend (9-11 February) to identify priorities for sturgeon conservation and form recommendations for action.

Annual legal catches continue to decrease despite government attempts at re-stocking that involve releasing millions of young fish annually. The many causes of the decline were discussed at the meeting, the first of IUCN's Sturgeon Specialist Group.

The meeting included a review of the status of wild sturgeon populations, a discussion of conservation initiatives currently underway, and some perspectives from international traders. Presentations from Russia, China, Romania and Azerbaijan all indicated rapidly declining legal catches of sturgeon over several decades indicating declining stocks, particularly since the breakup of the USSR.

Caviar traders shared their concerns about their industry and noted problems with product quality and escalating prices. They also reported a marked decline in demand.

In the late 1990s, in response to international concern over the survival of sturgeon, both the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) included sturgeon on their lists of concern. CITES, which controls international trade in caviar and other sturgeon products and to which most producer and consumer countries are signatories, placed sturgeons on Appendix II - meaning all international trade would be strictly controlled by both importing and exporting countries. Given the continuing urgent situation, CITES has recommended highly reduced international trade until producer countries can show that any proposed trade will not threaten the species in the wild.

The critical situation for sturgeon, particularly in the Caspian Sea, Azov Sea, Amur River and Yangtze River were highlighted during the meeting. "The priority problems to address include poaching and illegal trade, low efficiency of aquaculture and re-stocking, and a lack of international and regional co-operation for sturgeon conservation," says Dr. Mohammed Pourkazemi, Chair of the Sturgeon Specialist Group. "Attention should be directed at threats posed by dams, mining, pollution, and the lack of reliable stock assessments, adequate legislation and enforcement effort. There is an urgent need to restore sturgeon habitat as well as the various species that are threatened, whether or not they have a commercial value", he added.

While recognising the complex nature of issues facing sturgeon conservation, the experts' recommendations for future action include the following:

· Control poaching and illegal trade in caviar through:
- development and implementation of regional trade and law enforcement agreements;
- improvement of social and economic conditions of people in the sturgeon range states;
- improved enforcement of existing laws.

· Improve efficiency in aquaculture, stock assessment and re-stocking through:
- development of a unified method for stock assessment and monitoring;
- formulation of a "code of conduct" for each species that will increase the effectiveness of re-stocking programmes.

· Improve regional and international co-operation for sturgeon conservation through:
- regional agreements for sturgeon conservation and management particularly for the Amur River, the Black Sea, Azov Sea, and the Caspian Sea;
- identification of potential protected areas in sturgeon habitat;
- national level action stimulated by NGOs, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), conventions and other organizations;
- funding support for sturgeon conservation from major financial and economic mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility and World Bank as well as the private sector;
- increased public awareness of the threats facing sturgeon and opportunities for their conservation;
- an information exchange network involving all parties involved in sturgeon conservation including FAO, Convention on Biological Diversity, Sturgeon Specialist Group, Convention on Migratory Species, and IUCN's European Sustainable Use Specialist Group.

For more information contact
Anna Knee, IUCN/SSC Communications Officer; Tel: +41 22 999 0153; Email:

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