RMK and NGO Wildlife Estonia to restore the sturgeon population in the Baltic Sea in the next five years 21.10

Today, 250 juvenile sturgeons were released into River Narva to help restore the sturgeon population in the Baltic Sea. This September marks the beginning of the LIFE project “Protection and Recovery of the Baltic Sturgeon”, which will run for five years. The goal of this project is to release 500,000 juvenile sturgeons into the Narva and Pärnu Rivers.

The sturgeon population is currently being restored as its original population in the Baltic Sea was decimated by the end of the last century. The last known wild sturgeon was caught in Estonia in 1996. It was 2.9 metres long and weighed 136 kilogrammes.

Today, two-summer-old juvenile sturgeons were released into Narva River where they will live until relocating to the sea. “At first, sturgeons live and feed in coastal waters, where they are in danger of getting caught in fish traps due to their body shape,” said Kunnar Klaas, Head of the RMK Põlula Fish Rearing Department. “Sturgeons can live up to 100 years, grow up to 5 metres long and weigh up to 600 kilogrammes. They reach sexual maturity by the time they are 15-20 years old and then return to their home river to spawn. Spawning takes place every 2-5 years.”

Resettlement of sturgeon into a river. Photo: Aimar Rakko

Madis Kallas, Minister of the Environment, said that the resettlement of sturgeon to their former home river Narva is an internationally significant event. “We are working with other countries to restore the biodiversity of the Baltic Sea. Our hope is that in the future, the sturgeon population will be in good enough condition that fishermen will be allowed to catch it,” said Kallas. “I wish these sturgeons a long life and a lot of offspring!”

Meelis Tambets, Research Manager of LIFE Baltic Sturgeon, said that the only way to restore the population of an extinct fish species is to resettle it. “As sturgeons have a long life span and become sexually mature quite late, resettlement must be carried out in large numbers and over an extended period,” Tambets said. “We resettle fish of various ages to achieve the best possible outcome.”

Meelis Tambets, Project Research Manager, NGO Wildlife Estonia.

Some sturgeons are marked with telemetric tags to collect data on the fish’s habitat preferences and migration. Fish are also visibly marked so that fishermen can help collect data on sturgeon migration and growth rate.

“We can only restore the sturgeon population by working together,” Tambets said. “If you have caught a marked fish, please notify us by calling 517 6886 or sending an e-mail to meelis.tambets@gmail.com. We collect data on both living sturgeons as well as sturgeons who have accidentally died in traps.”

Even though RMK and NGO Wildlife Estonia have released sturgeons into Estonian waters before, the activity will gain new momentum from 1 September thanks to the “Protection and Recovery of the Baltic Sturgeon” (LIFE Baltic Sturgeon) joint project carried out with Natural Resources Institute Finland.

“According to the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), the goal of the LIFE project is to protect the Baltic sturgeon and carry out the 2019-2029 action plan in Estonia,” said Mart Thalfeldt, coordinator of the international LIFE Baltic Sturgeon project. “The project ends in December 2027. We will cooperate with institutions and experts from other countries surrounding the Baltic Sea to raise, settle and study the migration of juvenile sturgeon as well as to collect data. We hope to restore the population successfully.”

The European Union’s LIFE fund will cover 75% of the project’s costs. The Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Investment Centre and project promoters are also helping to fund the project.

Further information:
Kunnar Klaas
Head of RMK Põlula Fish Rearing Department
+372 527 8245

Mart Thalfeldt
Coordinator of LIFE Baltic Sturgeon, an international project of the RMK Põlula Fish Rearing Department
+372 506 2369

Meelis Tambets
Research Manager of LIFE Baltic Sturgeon, NGO Wildlife Estonia
+372 517 6886