The Government should consider reintroducing sturgeon, the long-lost “dinosaur fish” that once swam in Irish seas and rivers, conservation groups have said.
As part of an international campaign, the groups called on the Government to examine the feasibility of reintroducing the enigmatic fish that can grow to more than 2 metres long.
Sometimes called “dinosaur fish” as they have been swimming in rivers and seas since the Jurassic Period, sturgeon were once common in waters around our coast.
Before Irish independence they were designated a “royal fish” and any sturgeon caught was automatically the property of the Crown. Now, they are classified as “critically endangered” in Europe.
To back the effort the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) and Blue Marine Foundation (BMF) in the UK have jointly published research from the Atlantic Technological University which shows suitable habitat exists for sturgeon in some rivers, particularly the Shannon and Suir.
A legal review commissioned for this study found that under the EU habitats directive, Ireland is obliged to examine the feasibility of reintroducing sturgeon where suitable habitat exists for them.
These migratory fish spawn in freshwater but spend most of their lives at sea. Sturgeon can therefore be an “umbrella species”, benefiting a range of other species in aquatic and marine environments.
The report coincides with the release of the UK Sturgeon conservation strategy and action plan for the next decade, which in turn complements pan-European efforts to restore the species throughout its former range.
“Ireland must be part of this wider effort,” said IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty.
“We need to see a more concerted effort to reintroduce species to Ireland that have been driven to extinction. We believe the sturgeon should be a priority as many of the measures to restore its habitat, such as improving the status of rivers and the creation of marine protected areas, are already Government commitments.”
Even more habitat would be available were the Government to implement existing laws and policies, particularly the removal of barriers to migration on rivers and achieve “good status” under the EU water framework directive, Mr Fogarty noted.
It was a magnificent species that deserved to be brought back to Ireland in its own right, he added.
“Sturgeon once moved freely through the seas and rivers of Britain, Ireland and continental Europe. It is great to see conservation groups from across Europe come together to restore these ancient animals. Nature does not recognise national borders so nor should our conservation efforts,” said Adrian Gahan of BMF.
The sturgeon is only one of more than 100 species known to have gone extinct in Ireland since the arrival of humans.
“Reintroducing species is a recognised tool which helps to restore biodiversity and ecosystems and so is an essential facet of addressing the biodiversity and climate crisis,” the report notes.
Ireland has already seen a number of successful reintroduction programmes – notably of white-tailed eagles, golden eagles and red kites – “but we need a much more co-ordinated approach and one which allows greater participation of NGOs and community groups,” it says.