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Fish #44 European Sea Sturgeon Acipenser sturio ~ Alan Durtschi
Coloured pencil and ink 36 x 43 cm
Fish #44 European Sea Sturgeon Acipenser sturio ~ Laura Bateman
Watercolour and pen with silver leaf 35 x 40 cm
The European Sea Sturgeon, Acipenser Sturio, is the rarest of all sturgeons and always has been despite having the alias of the Common Sturgeon; unfortunately in 1996 it was listed as critically endangered. At present the WWF suspect that there is one single wild population that exists in the Garonne and Dordogne rivers in France. It is estimated that less than 750 individuals remain today. Previously the European Sturgeon could be found in the Atlantic, English Channel, Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the North Sea amongst others. European Sturgeons ascend rivers between January and October each year to spawn from June to July, at other times of the year they stay in estuaries and in coastal waters mostly staying at 20-50 metres below surface.
Sturgeons are large fish, and this species can reach up to 6 metres in length and weigh up to 400kg, however the average length is more like 1.25 metres. They can live for up to 100 years; slow development means that they don't reach sexual maturity until their mid to late teens, so breeding age starts from 12-14 years in males and 16-18 years in females. They dine predominantly on molluscs and crustaceans that they find using the sensitive barbels on their lower jaw. They have three lines of bone plates running the length of their body, which acts as a defensive tool against predators. During the early 19th century the European Sea Sturgeon was fished extensively for its caviar - poachers would catch hauls 10 times the legal catch in order to harvest caviar This, coupled with their late sexual maturity is what unfortunately lead to its decline and now its status as critically endangered. In 1982 the European Sea Sturgeon was made a protected species and so it is no longer fished for caviar, other Sturgeon species however still are.
Alongside over fishing and poaching, other threats to the Sturgeon include water pollution (especially affecting spawning grounds), damming and destruction of natural watercourses and habitats, including gravel extraction in the Garonne. It is estimated that numbers have declined by 70% over the last century. Whilst the European Sea Sturgeon is one of two species that are critically endangered, all other Sturgeon species are affected by these factors, with wildlife trade posing a particular threat in the harvesting of caviar.
There are breeding programmes in captivity for restocking, but these are yet to breed in the wild as there are indications that females only breed every 3-4 year, and males every 2 years. The National Fishermen Association in Atlantic North Sea and the WWF have coordinated a fisheries awareness programme. Overfishing and water pollution is something that we have been made very aware of in the media in recent years. With caviar not being something that most of us eat on a regular occasion I was sadly unaware of the issues associated with the overfishing of these lovely creatures for their eggs. I try so carefully to eat fish that are being responsibly fished, but it says something about the human race that a species has been fished to the point of critical endangerment for a 'delicacy'.
Painting and researching the European Sea Sturgeon has given me and insight into a side of the fishing industry that I was previously unaware of. In general this project has made me more passionate about protecting our oceans and all that live in them, whilst I may not eat caviar (I think I may have tried it twice in my lifetime) I am grateful to have been made aware of the impact on the all Sturgeon populations. Water pollution is something we are all aware of, especially that of plastic, I feel strongly that if we all do our part, small as it may be, we can make a difference - reusing containers, recycling whatever possible, and reducing the amount of new plastics that we buy. Changes will take time but our planet and its creatures are worth it. Stumbling across this project has given me the opportunity to research something I otherwise wouldn't have, it's added to my growing passion to help save our oceans, getting involved has given me so much more than just the opportunity to paint a fish...
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