Fish from the Dinosaur age are struggling to survive in Black Sea!

Defining the sturgeon as the most precious fish of the acqua world would not be false. Its caviar which is world wide valuable and dear could be sold up to 10.000 US Dollars per kilogram. The dear price of its caviar has been a disadvantage for these fish. One of the main reasons that it faces extinction is that it is caught for its caviar even before it spawns once. Sturgeon reaches reproductive maturity very lately. Defined as the biggest freshwater fish Sturgeon Morina can live up to 100 hundred years and reach 6 meters length and 2 tonnes weight, but to reach reproductive maturity it needs about 20 years. The Sturgeon Morina caught before it reaches reproductive maturity can not contribute to its species and dies. Currently the number of Sturgeon  and their chance to reproduce naturally little if any, so fishing Sturgeon is banned in many countries and caviar is only provided by the fish of culture fishing.

Sturgeon has a rather long and roundish body form. Its spired head is formed by the joint of several bones and reminds of a shield. Its body is covered with bony plates one at the back, one at each sides, two at the ventral surface. Sturgeon fish are generally misidentified in public because of their looks, they are different from the common fish form with their mouth at the lower part of the head with no teeth and the mouth can move forward, with their …bıyık… in line in front of their mouth and their tail fins like sharks. Although catching these were banned in our territorial waters, they were caught illegally, displayed at fish markets and their 300-400 kg weighed ones were called “Blacksea Monester” or “Sturgeon Shark”. It is known that by the rise in the measures of Protection and control they were not displayed at fish markets, the ones caught by chance were illegally sold to restaurants and consumed.

Sturgeon fish have been economically important for thousands of year for the quality of its flesh and very valuable caviar. Historical records say that it was caught in Dinyester, decorated and served in big events, coins were made with Sturgeon phantoms on them in the years 2500 BC. Caviar of Sturgeon had always been politically been important there had been wars for caviar. Sturgeon fish were able to survive their extinction to the 20 th century, in this century they were overfished, and after 1960’s they have lost their natural spawning ground by the construction of dams, hydroelectric power plants and flood dams on big rivers. And also use of river for the easiest way of discharging untreated domestic and industrial waste has increased the ravages of spawning area. As the same adverse conditions are on the increase the number of Sturgeon fish decrease day by day. 
Sturgeon fish represented by two families and 27 subspecies in Europe, Asia and  Northern America waters, and in our territorial water there are 5 kinds of them. Unfortunately recent scientific researches show that only three kinds ((Acipenser gueldenstaedtii, Acipenser stellatus ve Huso huso) remain.

The strugle of NGOs for sturgeon protection

Like worldwide samples also there are some NGOs active in the protection of Sturgeon fish, and especially the first association for the protection of Sturgeon fish was founded by the leadership of Associate Professor Doç.Dr. Serap USTAOĞLU TIRIL in 2004, Association for the Protection and Life Support for Sturgeon (MERKODER). Objective of  MERKODER is to; draw attention to these valuable fish which is almost forgotten as the number of them is very little, to inform public about the critical situation that the Sturgeon fish is in, to provide and put into action the solution provided by gathering related people from every part of the public, and to support protection of Sturgeon fish in global level by cooperating international NGOs. Activities of MERKODER up to now include preparation of  brochures, posters and educational seminars, television and paper news for publicity of Sturgeon.
Among the activities MERKODER carried out so far can be counted materials such as leaflets, posters etc, eductional seminars, TV and newspaper announcements prepared for the purpose of the visibility of sturgeons. The association prepared various visibility materials and distributed them to the public with the support of UN Global Environment Fund Small Grants Programme in 2006.   
MERKODER contribute to scientific studies with the cooperation of various organisations and associations. It was invoved in the project “Determining the present state of populations of sturgeons and researching the opportunities for aquaculture” titled Trabzon Central Research Institute for Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Communication was initiated with the fishermen along the Black Sea coast, and sturgeons bycaught were branded, and they were released back into the sea accompanied by fishermen who caught this. Thus, 119 sturgeons were branded and released back into the sea with active participation of the fishermen into the protection activities. 40 of these fish were released into the sea in Samsun and its towns acompanied by the officials from Smasun Provincial Directorate of Agriculture, Çarşamba, Bafra and Yakakent District dirctorate of agriculture. 6 of the fish released branded so far were caught again and released back into the sea by the fishermen who caught them. The idea evolved with this project that branding practices enhance the protection awareness of fishermen and can be used as a protection strategy.



Another project MERKODER was involved is a project titled “Improving the Sturgeon Population in Turkey: Habitat Assessment and Reserve Reinforcement” executed by Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs financed by UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Other participating organisations are Trabzon Central Research Institute for Fisheries and General Directorate for State Hydraulic Works under the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.  With this project it is aimed that the necessary precautions for production and breeding should be taken and habitat assessment and rehabilitation work should be fulfilled for the purpose of improving the sturgeon reserves in Turkey. The technical capacity of Yedikır Aquaculture Plant belonging to DSI (General Directorate for State Hydraulic Works) in Suluova Amasya, necessary equipment for production and breeding was provided, and fertilised eggs of 1 kilogram of Acipenser gueldenstaedtii and Acipenser stellatus were brought fromKrasnodar in May 2010 was successfully spawned in the plant. Larvae and offspring production and incubating inseminated sturgeon spawn was initiated with this project in Turkey. Some of the fish amounting to 200-250 gr were granted to the fish producers who are concerned about sturgeon production. 5000 fish were branded and released into the narural environment from Yeşilırmak and Sakarya rivers in May 2011 and will be released into the natural environment  from Yeşilırmak and Sakarya rivers in December 2011. Information meetings were held regarding recording the brand information of the sturgeons bycaught on the fishnets and releasing of fish, and fishermen were informed about the project activities and measures for conservation. Particularly, protection of the sturgeons released into our waters until they reach the reproduction maturity within the scope of the project concerned has a great importance in the successful implementation of the project. Besides, the rehabilitation of the habitats in the rivers creating natural reproduction environments is needed. With the participation of the relevant organisations within the framework of the FAO project concerned, an action plan covering what should be done for the purpose of protecting the sturgeons facing extinction in our territorial waters and reproduction-living environments, was prepared, and it will be committed to implementing it in 2012.