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Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 172516164

Community-based conservation of critically endangered Stellate and Ship sturgeon: Saving living fossils on the brink of extinction.

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 172516164) - Stellate sturgeon - Awarded $6,500 on November 06, 2017

This project will be conducted in the southern Caspian Sea along the coastal habitats of Iran. The Caspian Sea is the largest body of water enclosed by land, and it has been home for sturgeons for thousands of years by providing critical feeding and spawning grounds for several sturgeon species including stellate sturgeon (Acipenser Stellatus) and ship sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris).

Recent investigations indicated that Acipenseriformes have the highest proportion of critically endangered species, and sturgeon species inhabiting in the Caspian Sea are severely exposed to extinction risks with over 90% of their wild populations being currently declined. Stellate sturgeon and ship sturgeon are on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of critically endangered species (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/229/0). These species were also listed in the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II in 1998.

These living fossils are now on the brink of extinction for several reasons such as  illegal fishing and habitat deterioration. The Caspian littoral countries agreed about when and where to operate sturgeon fishing, and to adopt policies such as sturgeon fishing ban for commercial purposes, and to develop restocking plans to protect sturgeons. But results have not been satisfactory enough to compensate for the loss of stocks and their habitats, and the populations continue to decline. Overfishing exacerbated by high volumes of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) catch for sturgeon meat and eggs (Caviar) is reported from the Caspian waters which will consequently lead to loss of the remaining wild populations. The number of adult sturgeons for restocking purposes from once most productive Iranian fishing grounds currently restricts to limited number of fish. Previous investigations have also indicated that if IUU fishing continues at the current level, particularly in the absence of adequate measures to conserve sturgeons and enhance restoration, species such as stellate sturgeon will become extinct in the mid-21st century. Survival of this and other sturgeon species will largely depend on eliminating illegal fishing, restocking successes and habitat protection under effective fisheries management actions, and by engaging local communities in conservation strategies. Efficient conservation and restocking requires to design proper conservation plans in which all contributors, especially the role fishermen and coastal communities, are taken into account. This is foundational of all conservation efforts to ensure long-term health and survival of populations.

Limited investigations have been conducted regarding the engagement of fishers and coastal communities in data collection about sturgeon fishing and conservation. Thus,

  • by engaging fishers and local coastal communities, 
  • by determining areas highly exposed to illegal fishing activities, 
  • by collecting field-based observation data, 
  • by the application of novel geo-spatial approaches, 
  • by increasing conservation awareness, 
  • by presenting obtained knowledge to the public 
  • and by establishing the university, coastal communities and organizations as key leaders in sturgeon conservation, 

a better understanding of current challenges can be obtained which can consequently lead to more successful species conservation actions.

Project document