The Crashing Populations of the Beluga Sturgeon

One of the more dramatic recent examples of a near-extinction of species is the beluga sturgeon. This remarkable "fossil" fish can grow to over twenty feet in length, weigh over 1,800 pounds, and live more than a hundred years. Its blessing and its curse is that the female beluga sturgeon produces large, dark, flavorful eggs that comprise the most desired caviar in the world, the fabled beluga caviar. Aristotle wrote of Greek banquets featuring platters piled high with caviar, and the Chinese traded it as early as the tenth century. Today, caviar continues to be a symbol of either luxurious dining or conspicuous consumption, and beluga caviar continues to be the most prized, a "black gold" whose supply is down as its demand is up.

How did the beluga sturgeon come to the brink of extinction? It became the victim of three of the four human actions that cause extinctions:

In December 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the beluga sturgeon population had crashed, citing reports from the World Conservation Union and the World Wildlife Fund prepared for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)."We are killing the goose that lays the golden egg," according to Lisa Speer, an analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Several consumer groups have advocated a ban on beluga caviar imports in the United States, while launching ad campaigns promoting domestic aquacultured caviar as a sustainable alternative. We will know soon whether we have acted fast enough to save an animal as endangered as the giant panda and the blue whale.

References:

Messier, Martin. 1998. "The Beluga Sturgeon: Caviar in Danger?"
http://www.american.edu/projects/mandala/TED/STURGEON

Revkin, Andrew C. 2000. "U.S. Is Asked To Ban Beluga Caviar Imports," The New York Times, December 19, pp. D4-5.

Wildlife Conservation Society. 2000. "Caviar Emptor: Let the Connoisseur Beware,"
http://www.caviaremptor.org