Beluga Sturgeon Максим Яковлєв, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Sturgeon: Everything you Need to Know About Acipenseridae

What is Sturgeon

Sturgeons (family Acipenseridae) represent a group of primitive ray-finned fishes notable for their longevity, size, and economic importance. This lineage is renowned for its evolutionary lineage that stretches back to the early Jurassic period, approximately 200 million years ago. With 27 recognized species existing today, sturgeons are fascinating subjects of scientific research, warranting an in-depth exploration of their biology, behavior, and conservation status.

Biology and Life Cycle

Sturgeons are anadromous, migrating from the sea into freshwater rivers to spawn. They are characterized by their heterocercal tail, scutes (bony plates), and a protrusible, inferior mouth well-adapted for their bottom-dwelling lifestyle. The species range in size, with the smallest species, the sterlet sturgeon (Acipenser ruthenus), averaging about 1 meter in length, to the massive beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), which can reach lengths exceeding 7 meters.

Sturgeons are long-lived and late maturing. In several species, males do not reach sexual maturity until they are 8 to 12, while females can take 10 to even 25 years. Reproduction is further characterized by long intervals between spawning events, sometimes up to several years for individual sturgeons. This slow reproductive rate has significant implications for their populations, particularly in the face of extensive anthropogenic pressures.

Feeding Behavior

Sturgeons are primarily benthivores, feeding on various organisms found on or in the substrate. Their diet includes worms, crustaceans, mollusks, small fishes, and sometimes plant material. The sturgeon’s extendable, tube-like mouth is used to suck up food from the river or sea floor, while their tactile barbels aid in locating prey in turbid or dark waters.

Economic Importance

Sturgeons are of substantial economic importance because their eggs, known as roe, are harvested and processed to create caviar. This high-end luxury product is globally recognized and sought after, making sturgeons a primary target for commercial fishing. In particular, the beluga, osetra, and sevruga sturgeons, all native to the Caspian Sea, are renowned for their superior-quality caviar. Sturgeons are also harvested for their flesh and swim bladder, used in the food industry and traditional medicine.

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies most sturgeon species as critically endangered, reflecting the severe population declines they have suffered over the past century. Overfishing, habitat loss due to dam construction, pollution, and illegal trade are all significant threats to these fish.

Sturgeons also have a low resilience to these pressures due to their late maturation, long reproductive cycles, and specific migratory and spawning needs. Although efforts have been made to conserve sturgeon populations, including fishing bans, hatchery programs, and habitat restoration projects, their recovery remains challenging due to these inherent biological characteristics and continued anthropogenic pressures.

How to Cook Sturgeon

Cooking sturgeon can be a delicate process due to its firm and lean flesh, known for its mild, slightly sweet flavor that easily absorbs marinades and spices. Here are a few detailed ways to prepare this unique fish.

Grilled Sturgeon:


  • 4 sturgeon fillets
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Fresh herbs (dill, parsley, or thyme work well)


  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. While the grill is heating, prepare the sturgeon fillets by brushing them with olive oil on both sides.
  2. Season the fillets with salt, pepper, and a light dusting of garlic powder. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over each fillet to enhance the flavor.
  3. Once the grill is heated, place the fillets on the grill. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Be careful not to overcook, as sturgeon can become tough if overdone.
  4. Serve hot with a sprinkle of fresh herbs and a lemon wedge on the side.

Baked Sturgeon with White Wine Sauce:


  • 4 sturgeon fillets
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Fresh herbs (parsley or chives work well)


  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Season the sturgeon fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
  2. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the fillets and sear on both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the fillets and set them aside.
  3. In the same skillet, add the chopped onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions become translucent. Pour in the white wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.
  4. Return the sturgeon fillets to the skillet and spoon some wine mixture over them. Transfer the skillet to the preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
  5. Remove from the oven and stir the butter into the skillet to create a rich sauce. Spoon the sauce over the fillets and garnish with fresh herbs before serving.

Pan-Seared Sturgeon:


  • 4 sturgeon fillets
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Lemon wedges


  1. Pat the sturgeon fillets dry and season them with salt and pepper on both sides.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fillets and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until they have a nice golden color and the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  3. Add butter to the skillet and spoon it over the fillets as it melts to baste the fish.
  4. Serve hot with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over each fillet.

Remember that the key to delicious sturgeon is to ensure it’s not overcooked. The flesh should be opaque and flake easily when it’s done. Always choose sustainably sourced sturgeon to help protect this endangered species.


Sturgeons, the ancient denizens of our water bodies, represent a vital link to the biological past and a cautionary tale for the future. These remarkable fishes are irreplaceable components of aquatic biodiversity, offering insights into the evolutionary processes and ecosystem dynamics. Their precarious conservation status underscores the urgent need for effective, evidence-based strategies to safeguard these iconic species. As we deepen our scientific understanding of sturgeons, we are responsible for ensuring that these remarkable creatures continue to swim in our waters, contributing to the intricate tapestry of life on Earth.

FAQ Section

1. How big is sturgeon?

Sturgeon species vary greatly in size. The smallest species, the sterlet sturgeon, averages about 1 meter in length, while the beluga sturgeon, the largest, can grow to over 7 meters and weigh over 2000 kilograms.

2. Can you eat sturgeon?

Yes, you can eat sturgeon. The flesh is lean, firm, and flavorful. Sturgeon eggs are also highly prized and processed into caviar. However, it’s crucial to source sturgeon sustainably due to their threatened conservation status.

3. What do sturgeon eat?

Sturgeons are benthivores, feeding on various organisms found on or in the substrate. Their diet includes worms, crustaceans, mollusks, small fishes, and sometimes plant material.

4. How big do sturgeon get?

The size of a sturgeon varies depending on the species. The beluga sturgeon is the largest, capable of reaching over 7 meters in length and weighing more than 2000 kilograms.

5. Are sturgeon dangerous?

Sturgeons are not typically dangerous to humans. They are generally peaceful creatures. However, they can pose a risk if disturbed or threatened due to their size and strength.

6. How long do sturgeon live?

Sturgeons are known for their impressive longevity. Many species can live for several decades, with some, such as the lake sturgeon, living up to 150 years.

7. Is sturgeon good to eat?

Yes, sturgeon is considered a delicacy. Its flesh is firm and flavorful, absorbing marinades and spices well. However, conservation concerns make it crucial to ensure that any sturgeon you eat is sourced sustainably.

8. Do sturgeon have teeth?

Sturgeons do not have teeth. Instead, they have a long, extendable, tube-like mouth to vacuum food from the river or sea floor.

9. What do sturgeon taste like?

Sturgeon has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that absorbs the taste of marinades and spices very well. Its flesh is firm and dense, often compared to chicken or pork in texture.

10. How many sturgeons are left in the world?

The exact number of sturgeons left in the world is unknown. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified most sturgeon species as critically endangered, indicating severe population declines.

11. Is sturgeon kosher?

No, sturgeon is not considered kosher. Kosher fish must have fins and scales, while sturgeons have fins but lack the type of scales required by Jewish dietary laws.

12. Do sturgeon bite?

Sturgeon are not typically aggressive and are not known to bite humans. They use their tube-like mouths to suck up food from the bottom, rather than biting or chewing.

13. Does sturgeon have scales?

Sturgeons do not have the typical overlapping fish scales. Instead, they have bony plates, known as scutes, that provide protection.

14. How to fish sturgeon?

Fishing for sturgeon requires a lot of patience, the right equipment, and often special permits, as many sturgeon species are protected. Sturgeons are bottom feeders, so bait such as nightcrawlers, shrimp, or other bottom-dwelling prey should be chosen accordingly.

15. Are sturgeon prehistoric?

Sturgeons are often referred to as “living fossils,” as their lineage stretches back to the early Jurassic period, around 200 million years ago. Their primitive features, such as their heterocercal tail and lack of scales, reflect this ancient lineage.

16. Can you keep sturgeon?

Sturgeons are unsuitable for most home aquariums due to their large size and specific habitat requirements. Moreover, due to their conservation status, it’s illegal to catch and keep a sturgeon without a special permit in many places.

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