Russian sturgeon | European Tracking Network

Russian sturgeon

Acipenser gueldenstaedtii

Species description and statusBig, heavily build fish with elongated, spindle shaped body. Two pairs of barbels, originating closer to the tip of snout than mouth. Mouth inferior with upper lip indented in the middle and lower lip interrupted. Five rows of scutes along the body, which remain rather prominent throughout life. Entire skin surface is covered with small denticles. It can reach a weight of 100 kg but most large specimens today weigh lower than 60 kg. Average weight of migrants ranges from 10 to 25 kg (Vescei, 2001). Coloration is usually dark olive to black with light scutes strongly contrasting against dark body. Ventral surface from white to pale yellow.

A diadromous fish distributed throughout the basins of Black Sea, Sea of Azov and Caspian Sea, but nowadays widespread construction of hydroelectric dams has greatly diminished the species’ range in the past century. Construction of the Iron Gate Dams blocked upstream access to the spawning sites of the species in Middle Danube. Similar habitat loss has occurred on most other major rivers in the basins of Black and Caspian Seas. Nowadays most of the populations are nearly extirpated.

The species is included in Appendix II of CITES and it is categorized as Critically Endangered by IUCN with decreasing population trend.

Figure 1. Distribution of Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) taken from fishbase.org

Knowledge gapsMigration routes, periods of migration and the distribution in marine and transitional waters are not well known. The effect of hydropower dam construction on the movements and reproduction success is also poorly understood. There is no recent data about reproducing populations in Lower Danube and spawning grounds are not known. More information on the Black Sea movements and distribution, as well as on the wintering sites is required. 

Regions of interest: The regions of biggest interest are Lower Danube and Black Sea.

Telemetry tools: Acoustic telemetry with data loggers would be the most useful tool for characterizing the movement patterns in Danube River. Telemetry methods should be also used to research Russian Sturgeon movements and behavior in the transitional, coastal and marine waters of the Black Sea. Tagging of juvenile specimens by PIT-tags is also a possibility for surveying their biology and migration.

Benefits within the ETNUsing the ETN to further investigate Russian Sturgeon migration and behaviour in Lower Danube and Black Sea would greatly enhance our ability to better manage this critically endangered species. This is a common territory of few countries so joint research efforts, sharing of infrastructure and international collaborations are required. In addition, ETN would give additional insights in the location of the spawning grounds and environmental preferences of the species.

Contacts: Tihomir Stefanov (tishos@gmail.com)

References:

  • Balon, E.K. 1968. Dalsı na´lez mlade Acipenser guldenstaedti colchicus Marti, 1940 v cˇeskoslovenskom useku Dunaja (A further discovery of a juvenile Russsian sturgeon in the Czechoslovak part of the Danube). Ac. Rer. Natur. Mus. Nat. Slov. (Bratislava) 14: 95–100 (in Slovak).
  • Khodorevskaya, R.P., G.F. Dovgopol, O.L. Zhuravleva & A.D. Vlasenko. 1997. Present status of commercial stocks of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea basin. Env. Biol. Fish. 48: 209–219.
  • Levin, A.V. 1981. Distribution and behavior of young Russian sturgeon, Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (Acipenseridae) in the Caspian Sea. J. Ichthyol. 21: 138–144.
  • Levin, A.V. 1982. Substrate selection, daily rhythm of vertical distribution and swimming speed of juvenile Russian sturgeon, Acipenser gueldenstaedtii. J. Ichthyol. 22: 130–136.
  • Vecsei, P. 2001. Threatened fishes of the world: Acipenser gueldenstaedtii Brandt & Ratzenburg, 1833 (Acipenseridae). Environmental Biology of Fishes, 60: 362.
  • Vlasenko, A.D. 1990. Sturgeon population size of the Caspian Sea. Rybnoe Khozyaistvo 7: 53–56 (in Russian).
  • Vlasenko, A.D., A.V. Pavlov, L.I. Sokolov & V.P. Vasil’ev. 1989. Acipenser gueldenstaedti Brandt, 1833. pp. 294–344. In: J. Holˇc´ık (ed.) The Freshwater Fishes of Europe, vol. 1, part II, General Introduction to Fishes, Acipenseriformes, AULA-Verlag, Wiesbaden.