A drive to save the European sturgeon has been launched after research revealed only one remaining breeding population.

The initiative comes from the French conservation organisation EPIDOR, a body with close links with our own Anglers Conservation Association.

EPIDOR has written to the prime ministers of the ten countries where it’s believes a sturgeon population could be restored. That includes Great Britain.

They are demanding an international conservation plan be implemented immediately.

In the 19th century the European sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, thrived in more than 24 of Europe’s largest estuarine rivers.

Today, as a result of heavy over fishing and the effects of pollution, the only remaining breeding population is in the Gironne estuary in the Dordogne, south west France.

The total number remaining is thought to be less than 5000 and this is not enough to sustain the population without intervention, says EPIDOR.

Worryingly, it is eight years since the last confirmed natural reproduction took place. The sturgeon should spawn every two to four years.

EPIDOR has already built a sturgeon fry hatchery with grants from the European Union’s LIFE programme. Over 8,000 fry have already been released, but sturgeon do not breed until they are over 10 years old. 

EPIDOR is desperate for the existing fish to return naturally so that they can capture an adult female sturgeon, which will be carrying hundreds of thousands of eggs, before it spawns.

Without human interference the species can live longer than we can, and grow to sizes in excess of 900lb. Work is also underway to see how hatchery bred sturgeon could be re-introduced in German, Holland and Spain – but it all rests on capturing a live, pregnant female.

“With the fish re-established, it is even possible to imagine a time when the fish could become a quarry for the specimen hunter, as the wels catfish is,” said EPIDOR director Guy Pustelnik.

“Inevitably that could only be in the long term – at least one generation and maybe two away.

“But I know there are many anglers, especially among members of the ACA, who are far sighted enough to think in those terms.”

Gareth Purnell