White sturgeon fishing is fine, beluga fishing is not
There are many types of sturgeon, they are not all created equal, and fishing for white sturgeon is fine, but beluga fishing is not.
This is my summary answer to a person who recently asked, “Why are people allowed to fish for sturgeon in Washington when they are at risk?” But let’s explain this in more detail as it deals with some critical points in fisheries management and the condition of various fish species around the world.
There are more than two dozen species of sturgeon worldwide, many of which are critically endangered. All of them occur only in the northern hemisphere in all of Eurasia and North America. Wherever they were found, they have long been valued as food and especially sought and commercially captured for their roe (eggs), which is believed to be the only true form of caviar.
Nine species of sturgeon are native to North America. One of them is the white sturgeon, scientifically known as Acipenser transmontanus. Some of these nine species are classified as threatened or endangered in various locations – due to overfishing, habitat loss, and other environmental factors – and protected from commercial and recreational fishing.
The white sturgeon, North America’s largest freshwater fish, has been shown to grow up to 1,500 pounds. It occurs in major rivers in the Pacific Northwest and is monitored and managed by the relevant state fisheries authorities and the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
The latter agency tops the list of endangered species in the United States. White sturgeon in Washington, Oregon and California are neither considered threatened nor endangered. Regulated recreational fishing is allowed.
However, it is a dire situation for many of the Eurasian sturgeon species, especially beluga sturgeon, which is why there is no beluga fishing (although illegal fishing and poaching are a big problem).
The beluga sturgeon Huso huso is one of the largest of all freshwater fish and is believed to have grown to over 3,000 pounds. A 2,707-pound specimen was caught in the Urals in 1924 and reportedly yielded 542 pounds of roe.
The beluga has been considered endangered for decades. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is currently designating beluga sturgeon as critically endangered, which is one step away from being classified as extinct in the wild. So there is no legal beluga fishing.
Most anguga fishing in the past has been commercial as beluga caviar is one of the most sought after types of caviar. The tremendous value attached to this product, as well as that of other sturgeon from the Caspian, Red and Adriatic regions, has contributed to its ongoing decline.
Globally, sturgeon species are certainly in trouble, and none are at the level they have been in the past. In North America, some species, such as Washington state’s white sturgeon, are doing well enough to maintain a recreational fishery. Make sure you have a fishing license before going after them. Your license helps fund the management and protection of these and other species.
Ken Schultz was a longtime contributor to Field & Stream magazine and is the former fishing editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He has written and photographed nineteen books on sport fishing topics as well as an annual fishing tips calendar. His writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.