British Marine Life Study Society

Sturgeon



 

DID STURGEON EVER BREED IN BRITISH WATERS?

by Alan Knight





Since reading 'Severn Tide' by Brian Waters some years ago I  have cherished the idea that it might one day be possible to reintroduce sturgeon to the river Severn. Waters related fascinating accounts of magnificent specimens caught there after a long struggle, the fish often staying alive out of water for many hours. He described the Severn as Britain's greatest sturgeon river with the fish still being caught when the book was written in the 1950s. I believe the last sighting in the Severn was in the late 1980s and the most recent sightings in English or Welsh waters or rivers, that I am aware of, were in the Twyi, south Wales, in 1993.

 I raised the possibility of a reintroduction project  at a local conservation group member's discussion of plans for the Millennium and was pleased with the way the idea was received. I hoped that if a project were initiated it would draw attention to the state of our rivers. Hopefully it would be newsworthy especially since the sturgeon has been a Royal fish since the time of Edward II who reigned from 1307 to 1327 when he was brutally murdered in Berkeley Castle beside the Severn.

Monarch's Claim

Waters concluded that the great size of the sturgeon was the reason for its designation as a royal fish  reserved for royal banquets. The largest wagon drawn by oxen was  needed to transport the fish from the Severn to London.  He said that sturgeon were still being caught in Berkeley waters and finding their way to Billingsgate when he wrote Severn Tide.

 In theory the Queen has a claim on any caught in British waters or washed up on British beaches. In recent years the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household has, I understand, rarely accepted the fish when offered. The last time one was eaten at Buckingham Palace was, according to my 1976 edition of the Book of the British Countryside, in 1969 and in that same year the Queen gave a live one to an aquarium and a dead one to an orphanage.

A sturgeon caught off Portland and taken to the Weymouth Sea Life Park in March 1992 was offered to the Queen, and the Master of the Queen's Household replied to say that Queen very much appreciated the gesture, it was a tradition she greatly valued. She asked for it to be looked after at the Sea Life Centre.

Project Problems

When I first suggested the project I realised that there would, of course, be a great many problems to overcome including pollution and, even more significant, the physical obstructions in the river. I was not, however, prepared for the first major set back which was to find that most experts believe our fish to be merely vagrants from other larger European rivers. Some leading authorities doubt that the fish has a homing instinct. This was a blow because the Environment Agency will only begin to consider granting a licence to reintroduce the fish if it can be established that there were self sustaining populations of sturgeon in British rivers. If they were merely vagrants then any attempt to reintroduce them could be a waste of  time and money.

 According to the IUCN Red List (1994), the status of Acipenser sturio in the UK is described as endangered whereas in a number of other European countries it is classified as critically endangered or extinct. I was surprised to find that it is possible for a vagrant species to be included in the list.

 I then discovered that the Society to Save the Sturgeon based at the Institute of Freshwater Ecology in Berlin is not prepared to accept readily the conventional wisdom that the sturgeon did not breed in British rivers and insist that they do have a homing instinct. Perhaps the answer is that it does have this instinct but it is not as strong as the salmon's and one must remember that the salmon sometimes gets lost. They suggested that if positive evidence of spawning is not available then records of small fish, i.e. less than 30 cm would be invaluable. Failing that, large fish containing caviar would  indicate at least an intention to spawn and there are many such records.

 Quoting from their web site:- "The Common or Baltic sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, is the only sturgeon species which inhabited all major European river systems and the adjacent coastal sea regions. It reached a length of 4.6 metres and a weight of 600 kg. Acipenser sturio has a very close phylogenetic relationship to the American Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus. Due to overfishing, construction of dams, gravel extraction and pollution, Acipenser sturio is now considered almost extinct. Small stocks seem to persist in the Rioni and Gironde rivers. Acipenser sturio is on the IUCN and CITES lists and in the addendum of the priority-list of protected species of special interest to the European Union."

Past Records

If Acipenser sturio finally became extinct there might be a temptation to try to introduce a similar species such as Acipenser oxyrinchus but it is an offence to introduce non-native species of fish, which would mean any sturgeon other than Acipenser sturio, without a licence from MAFF under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and permission from the Environment Agency.  Section 9 makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure, or take any animals listed in schedule 5, which includes Acipenser sturio. They cannot therefore be introduced for the benefit of anglers. They are also protected under Annex IIa & IVa of the EC Council Directive on the Conservation of  Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (Priority Species) and under Appendix III of the Bern Convention and Appendix I of the Convention of  International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is also an offence under section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 to introduce fish to inland waters, with the exception of fish farms, without the written consent of the Environment Agency.

 Although I knew that the odds were against a reintroduction project ever being approved I decided to carry on with my research because it is such a fascinating subject. The Marine Conservation Society, the British Marine Life Study Society and a number of other organisations have encouraged me to continue. One reason for their support is, I believe, the fact that there does not appear to be a single list of  known sightings in British rivers and waters. I now have a long list of sightings over the last 200 years and my great hope is that I can uncover historical evidence of spawning in the Severn or other British rivers. If they did not spawn they had a damned good try. Nearly all sightings have been in April or May when one would expect them to be seeking out spawning grounds and they made it as far as Shrewsbury on occasions.

   Brian Waters mentioned that some sturgeon were too small to be of value to the Manor of Berkeley. He does not say how small but I am hoping that a search of the castle records might reveal something. Most historical records are of large fish but when sightings were more common it is possible that only the large fish would have excited attention and been thought worth of reporting. Henry II, who reigned from 1154 to 1189, made a grant to the Lord of Berkeley of all sturgeons taken in his manor. According to Brian Waters in 'Severn Tide' a man taking a sturgeon to the castle was rewarded with a bow and arrow and when these became obsolete he received a sovereign. This was regarded as inadequate by some fishermen who left the fish to rot rather than carry them over seaweed and rock to the castle.

Evidence of Spawning

The nearest I have got to uncovering evidence of spawning in a UK river was in Yarrell's History of British Fishes written in the 1830s where he mentions one eighteen inches long (46 cm) in the Museum of the Free Kirk College at Edinburgh which "may probably be the young of the Frith (Firth) of Forth species" He also refers to papers by a Dr Parnell describing Acipenser latirostris or Broad-nosed Sturgeon to distinguish it from Acipenser sturio. Parnell said that there was little doubt that two species inhabited the British coast. Salmon fishermen of the Solway Firth were catching blunt nosed and sharp nosed specimens.

 Quoting from Parnell "This fish differs from the Common Sturgeon, in having a tip of the snout much broader than the mouth, the keel of the dorsal plates being but slightly elevated, and the cirri placed nearer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth." He gave it the name latirostris as a temporary measure.

  He also talks of a head prepared by Mr Stirling of the Anatomical Museum of the University of Edinburgh and cut from a sturgeon caught near Alloa, Firth of Forth and said to weigh, when entire, 700 lb (318 kg) and measure nine feet (2.7 metres). Apparently there were eight other specimens in the museum caught near Alloa and other parts of the Firth of Forth. One, nearly six feet in length, is described as having "the barbels nearer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth and laid back do not reach the latter. They were tapering and roundish, but in the dry state showed a furrow as if they were composed of two binate cartilaginous rays." He says that other Firth of Forth specimens did not exhibit this furrow.

 Reading these and other similar descriptions I was initially excited to think that I had stumbled on evidence that a separate British species once existed, but  the experts point out that appreciation of taxonomy has changed considerably since the time of Yarrell and Parnell. The project leader for the Society to Save the Sturgeon has suggested that DNA tests should be organised to compare the numerous specimens held in British museums with other European populations. Maybe in the end that will be the only way to solve the problem.



The following notes have not yet been proof read or checked for mistakes:
 

   STURGEON IN THE SEVERN (and the Wye)

 There are several references to sturgeon in Severn Tide by Brian Waters which was first published in 1947. He describes the Severn as Britain's greatest sturgeon river and wrote about a salmon fisherman with fifty years experience who had twice caught sturgeon at Apperley  near Tewkesbury.  The first was caught  sometime in the 1890's "when it came pounding into the long-net near the river bank".  A cord was put through the fish's gills to tow it home but  it swung the boat round in circles.  They got him home after a long tussle and sold the fish to a fishmonger in Tewkesbury

Another sturgeon was caught in a lave net at Purton in 1921. It was ten feet long and weighed two hundred and forty pounds. The sturgeon is a slow swimmer and hangs around the rocks.   Brian Waters gives an excellent description of  the techniques used to catch sturgeon in a lave net, which would normally be unsuitable for catching such a large prize. He also describes the  tenacity with which it clings to life. It has a head like stone and will live for twelve hours out of water.  The sturgeon is floated to the shallows where it requires the efforts of several strong men to drag it ashore.

In Severn Stream by Brian Waters  he describes the outline of a fish cut in stone by the floor of the Cathedral Watergate which records a strange catch. A  sturgeon entered the gate in flood and when returning to the stream got stuck by the gills behind the door. Not recognisable as a sturgeon the outline was chiselled from life (or death) by a stonemason from Severn St. and is much larger than the largest salmon. Waters does not put a date to this.

He also tells of an 80lb sturgeon caught off the Cound below Shrewsbury by a farmer of Eyton-on Severn. He goes on to say that there can be little doubt that the devil that swam into Dicky Weston and Sam Edwards coracle net was this  sturgeon which may have been the only fish of its kind to cross the Welsh Border. He then speculates how much further upstream it might have gone if it had not been turned by this coracle net saying that if a  fish has any sense of magnetic direction it would have been bewildered by the way the Severn meanders to every point of the compass. I presume Waters means that it then went downstream to be caught below Shrewsbury.

The Guinness Book of Records (1976)  reports than  one, weighing over 500 lb, was allegedly caught at Lydney on 1st June 1937  and sent to Billingsgate.

The Severn Fishery Board report for 1937 says that two were taken in the estuary during June. One 5 feet 7 ins and weighing over 100 pounds, taken by a lave net fisherman on 11th June 1937 at Lydney, was presented to Viscount Bledisloe  as Lord of the Manor and  passed on to the Mayor (Mr Trevor Wellington) and Corporation for preservation in the Gloucester museum where it can still be seen. Perhaps the other one was the one included in the Guinness Book of Records. The report also suggested that the Board should consider the best way to coax sturgeon to frequent the river and argued for protection to be given to the fish. A photograph in the May 1989 issue of the Forest and Wye Valley Review of  a sturgeon caught by Mr Cyril Cook of Aylburton is probably the 11th June fish

An article on salmon fishing in the  Evening News (? Worcester  ) on Tuesday March 3rd 1987  mentions a "Berrows Journal" report of  a 300lb sturgeon caught in 1718 in nets near Upton on Severn. It was put on display in Worcester at a penny a peep but was eventually sold to a gentleman for a guinea.  Another huge sturgeon is said to have been caught at Pitchcroft in 1813  and in 1843 an 8ft 2in monster was landed  at Diglis and this  is on display in the Worcester City museum in Foregate Street.

So far the most  recent report  (from the Environment  Agency at Almondsbury) is of one weighing 169 lb caught between Newport and the Severn Bridge in the late 1980's.

Mr Alwyne Wheeler, formerly of the British Museum (Natural History) listed a number of catches during the nineteenth century. May 17th 1872 Bridge Pool, Bideford 6 ft 6 in  (160 lb) April 20th 1869 Oldbury-upon-Severn  2 fish May 1st 1869 near Woolaston Station  nearly 130 lb (not infrequent during the summer) May 28th 1868 near Newnham 7ft 8in May 10th 1867 near Lydney 130lb Mid May 1829 5 miles below Bridgewater 273 lb Mid May 1839 1 mile below Bridgewater  250 lb (Large ones in Parrett only in May) May 12 1846 above Newport in the River Usk  188 lb and possibly another in the Wye may 20th 1846  April 22nd 1846, 5 miles above Hereford 182 lb Dr Richard North, Fisheries Officer at  the Environment Agency office in  Shrewsbury says there have been very few instances of sturgeon penetrating the upper river in recent years but there is some evidence of one over 100 lb  found at Shrewsbury weir in the 1890's's.

Peter Howlett, Curator of Vertebrates,  Dept. of Zoology, Cardiff  Museum sent reports on two sightings. One from the Zoologist 1846 was caught at the weir on the Wye five miles above Hereford.  An angler inflicted wounds with a penknife which had limited success.  The fish was eventually landed but "did not finally give up the ghost until eleven o'clock at night. It was eight feet six inches with a girth of three feet  and weighed one hundred and eighty six pounds. A fish of such dimensions had not been seen in the Wye before and was thought that it had been washed up by the tide of the Severn at Chepstow.

The other was a fish 8ft long weighing  192lb taken in the weir at Shrewsbury in 1802 and which is now in Shrewsbury museum. Brian Waters also mentions this fish in 'Severn Stream' and says it led "credence to the story of the devil who reached Criggion"

 OTHER  SIGHTINGS

The sturgeon is now a rare visitor to Northern European waters the only populations existing today in the Atlantic Basin are in the River Gironde (France) , the river Guadalquivir (Spain) and Lake Ladoga (Russia)  (according to Alwyne Wheeler).  .

At sea they are usually caught at 1-27 fathoms but occasionally down to 38 fathoms. Victorian records show that they were not very often caught  a century ago but  the fisherman believed that it was their methods that failed to catch the solitary, bottom-living fish.

According to my 1972  Guinness Book of Records the largest fish caught in a British river was a Common sturgeon A. sturio weighing 460 lb and taken in the Esk, Yorkshire in 1810.  Larger specimens have been taken at sea including one weighing 700 lb and 10ft 5in long taken in a net by the trawler Ben Urie off the Orkneys and landed at Aberdeen on 18th Oct. 1956.

Lynn Hughes graphically describes two sturgeon catches in "Carmarthenshire Anthology. One, a record  for a fish caught on a rod and a line, was in the River Towy at Nantgaredig in Carmarthenshire on July 25th 1933.  It was caught by Alec Allen, and had to be transported on a horse and cart. It weighed 388lbs, was nine feet two inches long, and had a girth of 59 inches. A telegram was sent to the King. The reply indicated that the King was not in residence so the sturgeon was sold to a Swansea fishmonger for two pounds ten shillings.  In his will Allen instructed that his ashes be put in the river where he had 'pulled Leviathan'.

The other, known as the Croesyceiliog fish  (caught by 'Billy Boy' in June 1896 near Towy castle and sold to 'Slippy Dick')  was 8ft 4ins in length, 3ft 4ins in girth  and weighed 320lbs.  A number of coracle men rushed to help land the fish which upset two coracles and broke three nets. The sturgeon was placed on the roof of an outbuilding at Croesyceiliog for the villagers to inspect it and then taken to Mr Bland Davies' shed on the Quay side  for a  trifling charge. £7 was taken in coppers and the following day the carcase was sold for five shillings and taken to Cardiff for exhibition.

Brian Waters in 'The Bristol Channel' published in 1955  said that only twice in living memory had a sturgeon been caught in the tidal Towy about Carmarthen. Presumably they are same fish that were mentioned by Lynn Hughes but Waters said that "a dozen coracles closed in on the bigger fish and brought it ashore".  He also related that "the fishermen kept one alive for a week  by pouring an occasional  bucket of water over its head in an outhouse near the station where it was on exhibition at threepence a time before it died".

In a subsequent chapter Waters that in Tenby market sturgeon was cheaper than hake or mackerel which came in shoals and were available in abundance. A whole sturgeon sold for as little as seven shillings and sixpence and twelve shillings and sixpence was a good price.
 

Paul Varallo of the Environment Agency in Haverfordwest  has spoken to Mike Todd who was Head Bailiff  of the Tywi  Catchment  and confirms sightings on 4th June 1986, 11th June 1990 and 25th June 1993  at Golden Grove (SN588215) . In 1990 and 1986 there were floods in early May.  All three were probably in the region of 60/90lbs.  Mike Todd also says there are unconfirmed sightings by poachers swimming for their quarry between Golden Grove and Nantgaredig and several reports from coracle fishermen over the last twenty years. He also told me of a dead one weighing 365lbs washed up at the beginning of the century. The Towy runs over gravel and the water is clear making sightings easier than in deeper rivers.

    Peter Howlett, Curator of Vertebrates, Dept. of Zoology, Cardiff Museum sent the following information saying that  some are historical records and some relate to specimens held in the Museum.  Unfortunately most of these either have no data or are only the bony plates.

1. 25 May 1910, large one caught near St. Tudwals Island, Caernarfonshire and sent to the King.  Reported by The Daily Mail.

2. 21 June 1911, one of 45lb caught at Pwllheli, Caernarfonshire and sent to the King.  Reported by the Oswestry Advertiser. 3. 28 April 1931, one caught 3.5 miles south of St. Tudwals Island, Caernarfonshire.  This apparently came to the Museum, unfortunately it cannot be found now.

4. June 1932, one caught in Cardigan Bay.  No other details,   reported by the Cambrian News.

5. 1959, 2 plates and a spine from a large fish in the Museum, unfortunately there is no other data with the specimens.

6. 1 August 1984, Wick, Glamorgan.  Decomposed fish washed ashore, remains of skeleton, head and scales only.  Again this was quite a large fish, 6  of the bony plates are now in the Museum.
 

Alwyne Wheeler in The Fishes of the British Isles and North-West  Europe published in 1969 said that then largest recent catch in British waters  was in 1956, 11ft long it weighed 317lb or 142kg.  There is no indication of the location.

Andy Horton of the British Marine Life Study Society has heard of a number of sightings. He remembers that one , weighing  14lb 12 oz, Length 3.5 ft., was caught  5 miles out of Rye, East Sussex, several years ago, exact date unknown.  He also says that in 1954 & 1955, several were caught off  both coasts of Scotland and in the North Sea.   The largest weighed 317 kg and was 337 cm long. A smaller specimen was 94 cm and 11.1 kg.  He says the last record in the Thames was at the beginning of the 19th century. Occasional specimens are also recorded from Ireland.

Andy also says a  Sturgeon was captured alive at Portland, Dorset, in March 1992 by a local fisherman and taken to the Weymouth  Sea Life Park.  Mark Oakley, Weymouth Sea Life Centre, Lodmoor Country Park  wrote about it in his  book 'Saved from the Sea' reviewed in Glaucus. It was offered to the Queen and the Master of the Queen's Household replied to say that Queen very much appreciated the gesture, it was a tradition she greatly valued. The Sea Life Centre were unable to persuade this notoriously difficult fish to feed and it was released from Weymouth pier on 11th August 1992.  Length 1.3 metres and therefore probably no more than 2 years old. Earlier attempts by other European aquariums had shown the species to be particularly nervy and it seldom adapted to captivity.  First record for 80 years off Dorset.

Andy is tempted to believe this was the same fish that was caught off Rye There is no photograph of the Portland sturgeon in Mark Oakley's book to compare with the newspaper photo of the Rye fish.

 In  the History of Fishes by William Yarrell, a  Victorian book,     1   The author  refers to papers by Dr Parnell describing  Acipenser latirostris or   Broad-nosed Sturgeon . Parnell said that there was little doubt that two species inhabit the British coast. Salmon fishermen of the Solway Firth  were catching blunt nosed and sharp nosed specimens. A blunt nosed specimen was caught in the Firth of Forth in July 1835 and a few weeks later a similar specimen of the opposite sex was caught in Tay. It was  7 ft 9 in , 112 lb.  (guts held Sea Mouse Aphrodite aculeata).

Quoting from Parnell "This fish differs from the Common Sturgeon, in having a tip of the snout much broader than the mouth, in the keel of the dorsal plates being but slightly elevated, and the cirri placed nearer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth." He gave it the name latirostris  as a temporary measure.

This specimen was presented to the Museum of the Zoological Society.


 

 2   A head prepared by Mr Stirling of the Anatomical Museum of the University of Edinburgh was cut from a sturgeon caught near Alloa, Firth of Forth and said to weigh, when entire, 700lbs and measure nine feet.
3  There were (still there) eight other specimens in the museum caught near Alloa and other parts of the Firth of Forth.

 One, nearly six feet in length is described as having "the barbels nearer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth and laid back do not reach the latter.  They are tapering and roundish, but in the dry state show a furrow as if they were composed of two binate cartilaginous rays. Other Frith of Forth specimens do not exhibit this furrow."

4 A sturgeon from Teignmouth 4 ft 9 in was in the British Museum together with one from the Thames(?still) and the author says if "this be not a species distinct from the Frith of Forth Sturgeon it is at least a notable variety."

5 There is  mention of one eighteen inches long in the Museum of the Free Kirk College at Edinburgh which "may probably be the young of the Frith of Forth species"  Another in that museum was three feet eight and a half inches long .

6  A pencil sketch of one caught at Lamorna, Cornwall in 1851 was sent to Mr Yarrell  who decided it was the same species as those caught in the Firth of Forth but like the eight specimens from the Firth of Forth it differed in several important characters from the A. sturio of Heckel and Kner. The differences appear to be in the cranial plates.

7 Dr James of Leith was reported to have the head of one caught  near Stirling which the same cranial characteristics.

8 The cranial shields of one caught in the Tweed are in the British Museum described as not resembling any of 20 species but nearest to A. sturio.

9 Near Findhorn, Scotland one was caught in a stake-net in July 1883,   203lb  8 ft 6 in long it weighed 203lb

10The book says that Pennant records that one was caught in the Esk weighing 460lb but does not give a date.

11  In the Museum of the college of Surgeons of Edinburgh there was " a stuffed Sturgeon in excellent order  which measures six and a half feet in length.

12 Finally this book describes a 7 ft broad nosed sturgeon taken in the Exe, near Powderham. The barbels were half an inch nearer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth.

Richard  from Guernsey GY1 1BQ  Tel: 01481 700688  Fax: 01481 700699 fishinfo@itl.net   says that "there have not been any reports of sturgeon caught in Guernsey while I have been here (since the beginning of 1995).  I know two fishermen who have  caught them... a father and son  who trawled a sturgeon each several years apart.  I can find out when they were caught.  They were photographed at the time and I am certain their capture was reported in the local newspaper.  The story goes that one of the sturgeons was sold to a local hotel.  The royal household heard about the fish and sent a plane to Guernsey to pick-up the sturgeon steaks for a dinner at Balmoral."

In Marine and Estuarine Fishes of Wales (1993) by Geoffrey Potts and Silja E Swaby there is a map showing the distribution of  records around the Welsh coasts. They include a dozen sites from Carmarthen Bay to the Dee Estuary. Miss Swaby has promised to send details.

Edinburgh Museum hold some specimens of adult fish.

Gordon Henderson of the Scottish Office Marine Laboratory sent a map showing 143 captures around the Scottish Coast  between 1900 and 1995.
 

  NEXT ARE MY NOTES ON BASIC BIOLOGY

I hesitate to send you this because, as you realise I am a greenhorn in these matters, and all I have done is copy from a number of  text books and encyclopaedias. They are not always accurate as you have already pointed out.

You may like to add something about evolution.
I had in my notes.:- Sometimes described as a  prehistoric monster . Only parts of the skeleton are ossified. Ancestral forms include two genera from the Jurassic Period (195 to 136 million years ago). Only fragments exist  indicating that they were probably 6-7.5 m (20-25 ft) long. The sucking  mouth and plated armour developed later and Fossil remains of  today's sturgeon have been found in rocks dating from the Eocene Epoch (54 to 40 million years ago).
 

You E mailed me saying "No longer classified with the primitive palaeoniscoids evolving in late Palaeozoic, as  chondrosteans have a fossil record going back to the late Cretaceous (and this replaces any  prior writings). Paddlefishes (like sturgeons) reckoned have changed little since the Eocene, 40 million years ago. Evolved differently from the Teleostei.     Palaeopterygian bony fishes predominant Palaeozoic. "
 
 

           BASIC BIOLOGY

          STURGEON

          Taxonomy:
 
 
Phylum:   Chordata
   
   
 Class:  Osteichthyes
 Subclass:  Actinopterygii  (Ray-finned fishes)
 Infraclass:  Chondrostei
 Order:  Acipenseriformes
 Suborder:  Acipenseroidei

          Family:        Acipenseridae
          Genus: Acipenser
          Species: sturio
 

Sturgeon are  found only in the Northern Hemisphere. There are 25 species of  sturgeon.  Ours is Acipenser sturio or Atlantic (Baltic) sturgeon. It is anadromous, a migratory species entering rivers to spawn and then returning to sea.

The name derives from Old French estourgeon  and sturio is probably related to Old English styria and Old High German sturio.

Today very few are found in British waters and it is probably unknown in our rivers.   It was common two centuries ago in our large rivers including the Severn, Avon, Thames (the remnants have been found in the medieval remains of Westminster Abbey), Ouse and some Scottish rivers. A fully grown sturgeon can weigh up to 700lb and females can measure 11ft or more.  In colour it varies from greenish-brown to bluish -black dorsally lightening on the sides to white ventrally.  The dorsal scutes are light in colour. The colour deepens with age and in the young the scutes are conspicuously light and the fish has a striped appearance.

The head is covered with hard bony plates that meet to form conspicuous sutures (a type of immovable joint between the bones of the skull). The body is long and slender and (together with the head) is protected with usually five rows of flat bony scutes  or shields.



STURGEON IN THE BRISTOL CHANNEL

The list on the left only shows confirmed and documented captures of notable fish. There is evidence in the literature that Sturgeons were caught much more often.
 Fish were also caught in the Bristol Channel and in the estuaries of other Welsh rivers including notable specimens caught in July 1933 at Nantgaredig on the River Twyi in Carmarthenshire which weighed a colossal 176 kg (388 lb) and was 2.8 metres (9 ft 2 in) long with a girth of over 1 metre.
 The only other recorded fish in the River Twyi was in 1896 when a specimen of 98 kg was captured by several coracle fishermen at Croesyceiliog. However, there are other reports without detail, so as with all other records, it would seem that most of the old captures will go unrecorded.
 In recent years. the Twyi catchment area, including the Taf estuary has produced sturgeon in June in the years 1986, 1990 and 1993. There have been other unconfirmed reports in the same period. The Twyi runs over gravel which makes it a suitable river for spawning and also makes observations more likely from coracle fishermen.



Further Records discovered:
 
 

2 November 2013

A metre long Siberian Sturgeon, Acipenser baerii, was caught on rod and line by Peter Johnson off Greenhithe Pier in the River Thames estuary. It is was released back into the sea after capture. This species is native to the Ob river systems that flow into the Arctic Ocean, in Siberia. In its native habitat it is condered anadromous and able to migrate the sea and live in salt or brackish water. but it is mostly to be found in the freshwater reaches of these large rivers. Therefore, it has been found suitable for aquaculture and the pet trade and the most likely reason for its appearance is that was accidentally or deliberately released from a captive specimen.
 

Siberian Sturgeon
Photographs by Peter Johnson

2 August 2013
An Atlantic Sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus, was caught on rod and line off Hobbs Point, Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire. It was about a metre long.

Report by Ann Bunker on Porcupine NHS on  facebook


The Atlantic Sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus, was thought to be extirpated throughout its European range including the Baltic Sea and now only found on the American side of the Atlantic where it is Near Threatened.
IUCN Red Listing

Daily Mail Report with Image
I query the identification of this fish and this may be an escaped captive Sturgeon of another species.
 

2 June 2004

A Sturgeon, Acipenser sp., was caught in an otter trawl in Bristol Channel south of Swansea at 2:30 pm in the small (under 10 metre) fishing vessel MFV Wonkey SA357, skippered by Robert (or Kevin) Davies. It weighed 120 kg (265 lb), and was was 261 cm (8 ft 6") long (including the tail fin) and 246 cm long (excluding the tail).It was caught at a depth of between 10 and 20 metres. I believe it to be Acipenser sturio, but the snout is fairly short and blunt, more like Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (but this is a Danube/Black sea species).

Report from Doug Herdson (National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth)
Photograph by  Jeremy Moeran 1975
 

Sturgeon caught in Lyme Bay

Photo of the West Bay (Dorset) sturgeon.  The two men holding the fish are (left to right): Sid Gape and Bert Miller, employees of Messrs CT Samways & Son, Fish Merchants of Bridport, who purchased it from skipper Pat Hawker of West Bay.  It was caught the previous night in a trawl net from Pat's boat Torbay Star in Lyme Bay and weighed about 80 lb.

Photograph by © Jeremy Moeran
 

1966
February  Moray Firth
March  North Minch (Rae & Pine, 1968a)
April 2  Off Bray Head, Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry. Two,  122 and 157 cm, 7.7 kg (Went, 1967)
November  Ardglass, Co. Down (landed) c. 28 kg (Went,  1967)
December  15 miles north of Buckie, Moray Firth (Rae &  Pine, 1968a)

1967
April  3 miles north-east Troup Head, Banif. No  data (Rae & Pine, 1968b)
September 8 Trawl 'Out of' Castletownbere, Co. Cork C. 1~67 m  29 kg (Went, 1968)

12 January 1990
A Sturgeon, 8 ft long, weight 174 lb was landed at Newlyn market. Caught by skipper John Wright on MFV Evert Marjte, a Jersey beam trawler working out of Plymouth sold for £480 to Newlyn fish merchant J.H.Turner, later went to Manchester wholesaler.  ( Price was low. A similar Sturgeon sold a few years ago for £2000 )
(from Cornish Marine Life Records (Ray Dennis) 1990)

20 April 2001
Jon Tonkin from Cadgwith on the Lizard peninsula caught aSturgeon, Acipenser sturio,  whilst netting for Monkfish and Turbot. It was 2 metres long  and weighed 46 kg (101 lb). It was eventually served up in a Bath restaurant.

More Anecdotes:
 
 
This Sturgeon was captured by salmon fisherman Evan E Davies (my Grandfather's brother-in-law, listed as a fisherman in 1901) from the Forest of Dean area of the River Severn in the early 20th century

Some years ago I was seeing a farmer's daughter from Llanbadoc near Usk.
On the wall was a stuffed Sturgeon that her grandfather had pithforked
out of the Usk during the war years. It had been given to the Three
Salmons Hotel who had extracted the caviar and had the fish stuffed in
exchange. The stuffed and mounted fish measured five feet in length and
I forget the depth. I never knew the weight when caught but there were
two holes or marks where the pitchfork supposedly speared the fish.
28 October 2003  BRITARCH
Ian Daintith
 

Sturgeons have been recorded as coming up the Great Ouse as far as
Downham Market in the 18th century
28 October 2003  BRITARCH
Edwin Rose
 

Dorset County Museum has a mounted Sturgeon which is claimed to be the
largest fish caught with rod and line in England (or something such).
It's kept just outside the geology gallery (presumably because it isn't
quite a fossil).  There is also a photograph of the angler c.1925 with
the beast on the roofrack of his car.   This much from memory.
John Palmer on Britarch

An enormous one was caught in the Tywy in Carmarthenshire in the 1930s or
thereabouts. Needed a cart to carry it. The fisherman decreed in his will
that his ashes be scattered in the pool where he caught it. That's the only
reference I've ever found. May have been a stray. Endemic?

Caviar comes from the virgin sturgeon,
Virgin sturgeon, very fine fish,
Virgin sturgeon needs no urgin',
That's why caviar's a very rare dish.
Britarch

In Dublin I came across Sturgeon bones found the in the Viking levels.
What do we know about British sturgeon (apart from vage references that
Sturgeon is listed in some books as endemic species...)?
Britarch> Paul Barford

1884

I am not sure whether you have the following record, as reported in the Yorkshire Post of 5th July 1884 in their Angling in Yorkshire notes.

"Tadcaster - Sturgeon in the Wharfe. On Tuesday afternoon a fine sturgeon, measuring 7 feet 3 inches in length and 3 feet 7 inches in girth, and weighing upwards of 12 stone, was caught by Mr Fielden's fisherman (Wm Atkinson) in the River Wharfe, near Kirkby. The fish was subsequently secured for the night by a rope, and was conveyed to Grimston Park on Wednesday morning. It is said to be one of the finest specimens of the genus (accipenser) yet caught in this district."

I reported the above press cutting to Colin Howes at the Doncaster Museum a year or two back, and he was very pleased as he believes that the sturgeon in question is actually on display in the that museum. I think he told me that Doncaster Museum had obtained the fish from a small museum in Tadcaster, and that they'd got it on the dissolution of the Grimston Estate in the 1950s (?). However, they did not know at that time how the fish had originally got to the Grimston Estate.

I believe that Doncaster Museum had a DNA test carried out on the fish to establish whether it was European or American in origin. Colin Howes could give you more information on this.

At the present time, due to water quality improvements, we are seeing a resurgence in salmon in the Yorkshire Ouse rivers. Can we expect to see sturgeon numbers increasing again? (2008)
 

Report by Kevin Sunderland
1880
Sturgeon. Acipenser sturio. A specimen of this fish penetrated up the River Nidd, Yorkshire, nearly as far as Cattal about 1880. Ref THE VERTEBRATE FAUNA OF THE NIDD VALLEY
BY
RILEY FORTUNE F.Z.S.
HON.SEC.VERTEBRATE SECTION OF THE YORKS.NAT.UNION ETC

1806

I was fascinated by your analysis of sturgeon records on glaucus.org,
and I'm not sure whether you have the two East Anglian records, for
which photographs and some details are available at
http://www.commanet.org/reflect.aspx?action=navselect&rec=5009999900080813&dir=N&language=English&freetext=sturgeon&view=large
and
http://www.commanet.org/reflect.aspx?action=navselect&rec=5009999900143251&dir=N&language=English&freetext=sturgeon&view=large
The first was caught in the Hundred Foot River Oxlode in 1806, pictured
with a Mr P F Tow, and the second at Mepal in 1806. It was said to
measure 8ft 6in, and weighed 21 stone. Macer Atkin, Joe Wright, Nellie
or Lucy Waters, Tom Casbon, Moses Lenton, and Charlie Waters are
pictured with it.
Best wishes,
Amanda Gipson.



The European Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, is now extremely rare throughout its range. the only known breeding populations in the Atlantic Basin are in the River Gironde (France) , the River Guadalquivir (Spain) and Lake Ladoga (Russia)  (according to the late Alwyne Wheeler). The only remaining breeding population may now be in the River Gironde (France). In the past the Sturgeon was widespread through the major rivers of northern Europe including the Rhine, Elbe, and the River Severn.
IUCN classifies the European Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, on the Red List as critically endangered. It is a protected species listed in Appendix III of the Bern Convention, and its trade is restricted under CITES Appendix II.


UPDATE:

The European Sturgeon is considered one of the most endangered species in Europe. It remains today a single population, for which the lower parts of the Garonne and Dordogne are the last sanctuary of reproduction worldwide. The status of the species that no longer count as a few hundred representatives at sea has steadily deteriorated over the past decades.

European Sturgeon (CNPMEM)
 

The European Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio, is considered one of the most endangered European diadromous species. All the major international conventions for the protection of nature and species ( Washington Convention / CITES , Bern Convention of the Council of Europe, Bonn Convention / CMS on Migratory Species, OSPAR Convention for the protection of the environment Sailor of the North-East Atlantic) agree to acknowledge the very worrying situation of the species. The "Sturio", its scientific name, is on the red list of critically endangered species extinction IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). It is further included among the priority species of the Habitats Directive by the European Union. Finally, France has retained under its strategy for the preservation of biodiversity in 2008 must have an action plan for the conservation of this iconic fish. Formerly widespread in the seas and rivers of the continent, this "giant" migratory has faced during the twentieth century, the cumulative effects of the degradation of its key aquatic habitats (dam construction, water pollution, aggregate extraction activities and channeling, etc..) and an intensive commercial fishing, poorly framed, fueling a thriving market of caviar.

IUCN Red Listing

Life story information and status of the European Sturgeon
 
 


Sturgeon Database Page
 

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