Appendix I: Conservation
of critically endangered sturgeon
While, as a whole, the three main commercial sturgeon species of the Caspian Sea bear the brunt of international commercial demand for caviar and are the focus of this report, there are several other species around the world that are in serious decline due to the same problems that plague fish of the Caspian Sea. Several of these populations are described briefly below.
The Amur River: The Amur River flows for more than 1,700 miles along the border between Russia and China and is home to two sturgeon species, the kaluga (Huso dauricus) and the Amur sturgeon (Acipenser schrenckii). Like its close relative in the Caspian, the beluga sturgeon, the kaluga is one of the world's largest freshwater fish. It can live more than 80 years, reaching lengths greater than 18 feet and weighing more than one ton. Historically, both kaluga and the smaller Amur sturgeon have supported Chinese and Russian commercial fisheries in the Amur River. In 1891, 1,322 tons of sturgeon were landed from Amur River fisheries. Through the first two decades of the twentieth century, however, the river's population of kaluga was reduced by two-thirds and the Amur sturgeon population was reduced by four-fifths. A second period of significant decline has occurred from the early 1960s to the present, characterized by increasingly intensive illegal fishing. Today, total permissible catch by Russia is limited to 110 tons per year, though Russian officials recorded 17,000 instances of poaching during the spring 2000 fishing season on the Amur.
The Danube River and Black Sea: The three major sturgeon species that support commercial trade in the northern Caspian Sea -- the beluga, Russian, and stellate sturgeon -- are also found in the Danube River and Black Sea and the species face similar problems in each place. Sturgeon products have been exported from the lower Danube region of Romania for centuries and as recently as the late 1930s, Romania produced 23.1 tons of caviar per year. Since then, however, the relative sizes of all sturgeon in the Danube has decreased, as have their population sizes. Factors driving the decline include decades of overfishing; deforestation resulting in increased siltation and adverse changes to the substrate; construction of the Iron Gates I (1970) and Iron Gates II (1984) dams on the Lower Danube; water pollution by pesticides and fertilizers; gravel excavation; and water diversion for irrigation. Generally, sturgeon populations are most threatened in the middle and upper reaches of the river and beluga and Russian sturgeon populations of the Danube River are in danger of extinction. The 1989 Romanian revolution dismantled the Communist fishery management program and in the meantime poaching operations have become well-organized and powerful and monitoring and enforcement are virtually non-existent.