So What Exactly Is A Sturgeon Fish?

Whether it’s for killing a five-year-old by jumping in a boat or a 600 pound version being caught in a river in British Columbia, the sturgeon’s been in the news a lot recently. So, what is this kind of fish and where can it be found?

Sturgeon isn’t one kind of fish but rather twenty different kinds. The group of fish called sturgeons are sometimes called “primitive fish” since a long fossil record shows them to be unchanged over time. While they are techinically classified as a bony fish, most of their skeleton is cartilage. Most of them are freshwater fish, although some of them can be found on the coasts. They can be found in subtropical, temperate and sub-Arctic waters in Europe, Asia, and America. There are no known types of sturgeon that live past the equator. Sturgeons are bottom feeders and thus are usually found in rivers.

As might be thought from the death of the girl by a leaping sturgeon, they can get very big. Seven-to-12 feet long is a common size for adult sturgeons, and some varieties can get to over 18-feet-long. They have no teeth, but can swallow a whole salmon at times. Leaping sturgeon can cause injury in people, to the point where the Suwannee River has signs posted across its length warning others of the dangers of flying sturgeon. (The Suwannee is one of the many locations migrating sturgeon use in the spring and summer to get to and from the Gulf of Mexico.)

Unfortunately, sturgeons are at risk. The most popular sturgeon product is their roe, otherwise known as caviar. The beluga sturgeon is the most common source of caviar and is facing extinction from its harvest. It’s not the only one, either: an estimated 85 percent of sturgeon fish are at risk of extinction. Only two types of sturgeon, the lake sturgeon and the white sturgeon, are not considered at risk. The high price caviar fetches makes sturgeons the most valuable fish, pound for pound. Sturgeons also grow slowly and mature later than other fish. That makes them more vulnerable to environmental pressures like over-fishing and pollution. Sturgeon meat is also valuable in and of itself. (As a side note, sturgeon are not considered kosher since they do not have ctenoid scales. Rather, they have shark-like scales.)

If the current state of the sturgeon is a concern that has now come up, visit the World Sturgeon Conservation Society to find ways to help save the sturgeon.

[Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images]