Image: © Blue Marine Foundation
ZSL have released their conservation strategy aimed at returning the 'royal sturgeon' to British waters. The ambitious plan is seeking to restore the population of this critically endangered species.
The release of the UK Sturgeon Conservation Strategy and Action Plan was timed to coincide with the upcoming Royal Coronation this Saturday marking the relationship between the sturgeon and the Royal family.
This species was declared a royal fish by King Edward II as Hannah McCormick, ZSL’s Conservation Project Officer for Estuaries and Wetland explained, ''...they were declared “royal fish” by King Edward II back in the 14th Century, meaning all sturgeons landed in the UK have to be offered to the Crown – although nowadays this is just a formality.''
“Fast-forward 700 years, and sturgeons have all but disappeared from our waters, after dam construction in rivers blocking their migration routes and overfishing caused numbers to plummet in the latter half of the 20th century,” she added.
Through the plan, the team responsible for it will be working with key stakeholders and river users to take the necessary steps towards sturgeon restoration – such as identifying essential habitats, the restoration of migratory passages and reducing accidental bycatch.
This action in the UK is part of a wider effort to restore the species across Europe with successful action in Germany and France which have helped bring the species back from extinction.
Recently an increase in sightings has reported across the UK an encouraging sign for the future of the species.
Hannah continued: “The decline of sturgeons is a worldwide problem: these ancient fish outlived the dinosaurs and in fact still closely resemble their ancestors, which swam in Earth’s seas and rivers 100 million years ago. But after pushing them to the very brink of extinction, all 26 sturgeon species are under threat of being lost forever – earning them the undesirable title of being the most threatened group of animals of the IUCN Red List. The UK Sturgeon Conservation Strategy and Action Plan offers a solid, evidence-based way forward to restore the species – and a vital chance to save them.”
The European and Atlantic sturgeon are a fully migratory species. Their life begins in freshwater streams and rivers before they make their way out to the ocean where they will spend much of their 60 year lifespan. Every few years they will return to freshwater habitats where they can reproduce.
Jenny Murray, Blue Marine Foundation’s Senior Restoration Projects Manager said: “The development of this Action Plan has been an exciting first step that contributes to the European efforts of restoring sturgeons. This has been a truly collaborative approach that has highlighted the interest and need to see habitats in a good enough condition for their return. The public can support sturgeons return by raising awareness of this beautiful species and reporting any sightings to the Save the Sturgeon website.”
Steve Colclough, Chair of the Estuarine & Marine Specialist Section at the Institute of Fisheries Management added: “We now have over 5,200 records of sturgeon in rivers, estuaries and coastal waters all around the UK, since at least 1700. Our waters clearly formed part of the natural range of these great migrators. Until recently, the numbers visiting us have been so low that these were only recognized as occasional vagrants. In the 18th and 19th century many fish were captured in our rivers and in some cases where they were not offered to the crown, they were removed and destroyed as strange exotic sea monsters. Now we know better, we can help conserve these flagship species for future generations to see.”
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England who wrote the foreword for the UK Sturgeon Conservation and Action Plan said: “Natural England are happy to have been able to contribute guidance in the form of science and evidence to this Action Plan and hope it provides the stimulus required to encourage further ambition for the recovery of this special aquatic species into our rivers, estuaries and seas.”
The sturgeon is one of the main species from which eggs are taken to be used for caviar.
Image: © P. Freudenberg
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