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Sturgeon (Acipenser) is the name given to a small group of fishes, of which some twenty different species are known †, from European, Asiatic and North American rivers. They pass a great part of the year in the sea, but periodically ascend large rivers, some in spring to deposit their spawn, others later in the season for some purpose unknown; only a few of the species are exclusively confined to fresh water. None occur in the tropics or in the southern hemisphere.

Atlantic Sturgeon
Sturgeons are found in the greatest abundance in the rivers of southern Russia, more than ten thousand fish being sometimes caught at a single fishing-station in the fortnight during which the up-stream migration lasts †. They occur in less abundance in the fresh waters of North America, where the majority are caught in shallow portions of the shores of the Great Lakes.

In Russia the fisheries are of immense value. Early in summer the fish migrate into the rivers or towards the shores of freshwater lakes in large shoals for breeding purposes. The ova are very small, and so numerous that one female has been calculated to produce about three million in one season. The ova of some species have been observed to hatch within a very few days after exclusion. Probably the growth of the young is very rapid, but we do not know how long the fry remain in fresh water before their first migration to the sea †. After they have attained maturity their growth appears to be much slower, although continuing for many years. Frederick the Great placed a number of them in the Gdrland Lake (?) in Pomevania about 1780; some of these were found to be still alive in 1866. Professor von Baer also states, as the result of direct observations made in Russia, that the Hausen (A cipenser huso) attains to an age of from 200 to 300 years †.

Sturgeons ranging from 8 to 11 feet in length are by no means scarce, and some species grow to a much larger size †.

Sturgcons are ground-feeders. With their projecting wedgeshaped snout they stir up the soft bottom, and by means of their sensitive barbels detect shells, crustaceans and small fishes, on which they feed. Being destitute of teeth, they are unable to seize larger prey.

In countries like England, where few sturgeons are caught, the fish is consumed fresh, the flesh being firmer than that of ordinary fishes, well flavoured, though somewhat oily. The sturgeon is included as a royal fish in an act of King Edward II, although it probably but rarely graces the royal table of the present period, or even that of the lord mayor of London, who can claim all sturgeons caught in the Thames above London Bridge. Where sturgeons are caught in large quantities, as on the rivers of southern Russia and on the great lakes of North America, their flesh is dried, smoked or salted. The ovaries, which are of large size, are prepared for caviare; for this purpose they are beaten with switches, and then pressed through sieves, leaving the membranous and fibrous tissues in the sieve, whilst the eggs are collected in a tub. The quantity of salt added to them before they are finally packed varies with the season, scarcely any being used at the beginning of winter. Finally, one of the best sorts of isinglass is manufactured from the airbladder. After it has been carefully removed from the body, it is washed in hot water, and cut open in its whole length, to separate the inner membrane, which has a soft consistency, and contains 70% of glutin.

The twenty species of sturgeons (Acipenser) are nearly equally divided between the Old and New Worlds. The more important are the following:

See also: Teleostomes

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.