Sturgeon is the most globally threatened family of fish, and all species face severe challenges throughout their distribution. In the Black Sea, only three rivers are known to have suitable habitat for spawning: the Danube, Garonne and Rioni rivers. Six critically endangered sturgeon species have their last refuge in the Rioni River in Georgia, which unlike the Danube and Garonne rivers, had no sturgeon conservation programme.
Following drastic habitat loss, recent surveys show that the Rioni supports the world’s only population of Colchic sturgeon (Acipenser [persicus] colchicus), and some of the last populations of five other species. All species are endangered or critically endangered, and populations are rapidly decreasing (>50% per generation) due to fishing and illegal trade and reduced spawning habitat (just 16% of historic spawning area remains).
In 2017, FFI started a new conservation initiative to better protect the Rioni river and its sturgeon species. Working with the government, WWF Caucasus and a range of local stakeholders including local fishers, we aim to reduce the poaching and illegal trade in sturgeon products on local markets and to address the further loss of spawning habitat.
We are grateful for financial support from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Swedish Postcode Foundation.