Calls to save sturgeon as ‘living fossil’ fish slide towards extinction

July 22, 2022

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  • According to the latest IUCN assessment, nearly two-thirds of sturgeon species are now critically endangered and one is extinct.
  • The sturgeon is one of the largest freshwater fish on the planet and has changed little since the age of the dinosaurs
  • The perilous state of the sturgeon highlights the need for an ambitious global biodiversity deal with the protection of freshwater species and ecosystems

International conservation organizations are calling on governments to take urgent action to prevent the loss of sturgeons and paddlefish as the world’s first comprehensive assessment in more than 13 years, released today, confirms that the remaining 26 species are now threatened with extinction.

Carried out by members of the IUCN’s Sturgeon Specialist Group (SSG), the new assessment highlights that nearly two-thirds of sturgeon and paddlefish species are now critically endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species. of the IUCN, making it the most threatened group of species in the world. . The assessment also officially declares the extinction of the Chinese paddlefish, the wild extinction of the Yangtze sturgeon, and the regional extinction of the Danube ship sturgeon.

The poaching of sturgeons for the illegal trade in wild-caught caviar and meat is one of the main causes of their demise. Last year, The WWF revealed that a third of the caviar and meat products sold in the Lower Danube region were illegal. Hydroelectric dams blocking their migration routes, unsustainable mining destroying their spawning grounds, climate change and habitat loss are other major threats to the species.

In the UK, sturgeon were once a common sight in rivers and coastal waters, but the last officially recorded river catch was in 1993 in the River Tywi (Afon Tywi) in Wales. The construction of weirs and dams blocking spawning migration routes has contributed to their decline. Some individual fish have since been seen around the UK coast, most likely having traveled from reintroduction projects in France and Germany. It is hoped that through restoration efforts, the native sturgeon will be able to return to UK waters.

Sturgeons are very sensitive to environmental pressures due to their slow growth and are a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem. The perilous state of the sturgeon highlights the urgent need for an ambitious global framework for nature to be agreed by governments at COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal later this year. In particular, the new agreement must give priority to freshwater species and ecosystems, which have always been neglected despite being among the most threatened.

Dave Tickner, Chief Freshwater Advisor at WWF, said:

“Sturgeons have managed to survive almost unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs, so it’s incredibly sad that these living fossils are being pushed to the brink of extinction by humans. The perilous state of the world’s sturgeon, as well as the loss of sturgeons in UK waters some time ago, show what happens when we neglect the health of our rivers and urgent action is needed to secure the future of these fascinating fish.

“Freshwater habitats are in catastrophic decline in the UK and around the world. As well as taking action to restore our rivers at home, the UK government must ensure that freshwater species and ecosystems are priorities under an ambitious, nature-friendly deal at COP15 in Montreal in December.

Arne Ludwig, Chair of the IUCN Sturgeon Specialist Group, said:

“The world’s failure to save sturgeon species is an indictment of governments around the world, who are failing to sustainably manage their rivers and meet their commitments to conserve these iconic fish and halt the global loss of nature.”

“These shocking – but sadly not surprising – assessments mean that the sturgeon retains its unwanted title as the world’s most endangered species group.”

Despite the worrying overall picture, the IUCN update reveals some successes. After 30 years of restocking, young Adriatic sturgeon – a species previously thought to be extinct in the wild – have been documented in Italy and the incredibly rare shovel-nosed sturgeon Amu Darya has also been found in Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, long-term conservation efforts in North America have helped stabilize and increase some sturgeon populations, including the white sturgeon in the Fraser River in the United States.

Paolo Bronzi, President of the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, said:

“These successes show that we can reverse the decline of sturgeon species as long as institutions and governments prioritize their conservation and partner with communities and conservationists to address the threats to them. and their rivers.”

“By saving sturgeon, we’ll save a lot more – because improving the health of sturgeon rivers benefits all the people and nature that depend on them.”

WWF, IUCN and the World Sturgeon Conservation Society (WSCS) are working with partners to save the sturgeon through scientific research, awareness raising and direct engagement in conservation projects to bridge the gap between science and conservation. management.


Notes to editors:

About Sturgeon:

  • The sturgeon is one of the largest freshwater fish on the planet and can reach up to 8 meters in length and weigh over 1.5 tons.
  • Sturgeon can live over 100 years and take up to 15 years to reach maturity
  • Sturgeon originated about 200 million years ago and have undergone little change since, leading them to be described as “living fossils”.
  • Sturgeon can migrate up to 3,000 kilometers to spawn
  • Sturgeon spawn in rivers in summer and then return to the sea
  • Sturgeons feed on bottom-dwelling invertebrates – insects, insect larvae, worms and molluscs, and occasionally bottom-dwelling fish

The IUCN Global Sturgeon Reassessment published today reveals that 100% of the world’s remaining 26 sturgeon species are now threatened with extinction, up from 85% in 2009. five are Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The reassessment also confirmed the extinction of the Chinese paddlefish.

WWF Global Sturgeon Initiative aims to save the remaining sturgeon species. WWF is working with the authorities to fight poaching and stop the black market in caviar. We work with local fishing communities along the Danube in Bulgaria, helping to create alternative livelihoods and releasing captive-bred sturgeon to increase numbers. We work with governments to protect key habitats – including recent protected areas in Georgia and on the Danube in Bulgaria – and advocate for governments to implement conservation plans already in place.

WWF Living Planet Report found that freshwater biodiversity is declining much faster than that of our oceans or forests. Populations of freshwater species have declined sharply by 84% since the 1970s.

According The forgotten fish of the worlda report by 16 global conservation organizations, nearly one in three freshwater species is now threatened with extinction.

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