Nature groups seek return of ‘dinosaur fish’ to Irish waters in call to reintroduce sturgeon

Stock photo© Getty Images

Caroline O'Doherty

A campaign has begun for the reintroduction of another of Ireland's lost wildlife species - this time a fish that has remained virtually unchanged since Jurassic times.

The mighty sturgeon, known as a ‘dinosaur fish’ because of its 200 million year lineage, has not been officially declared extinct but the last recorded sighting was in 1987.

Before independence, it was designated a 'royal fish', by law each one caught automatically belonging to the British monarch.

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) and the Blue Marine Foundation say it deserves regal treatment in its own right and should be part of a planned reintroduction programme.

Sturgeon live mainly in the sea and and enjoyed Irish coastal waters but were also found in rivers where they came to spawn.

The conservation groups cite research from Atlantic Technical University that shows suitable habitats in Ireland for it, particularly in the Shannon and Suir rivers.

They also commissioned a legal review that concludes the Government is obliged under the EU Habitats Directive to, at a minimum, examine the feasibility of reintroducing it.

“We need to see a more concerted effort to reintroduce species to Ireland that have been driven to extinction,” said Pádraic Fogarty, IWT campaigns officer.

“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.

“It’s also a magnificent animal that deserves to be brought back to Ireland in its own right”.

The campaign is shared by UK group, Blue Marine Foundation, which is backing a similar initiative in Britain.

“Sturgeon once moved freely through the seas and rivers of Britain, Ireland and continental Europe,“ said Blue Marine’s Adrian Gahan.

“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.”

Ireland has already reintroduced the gold eagle, white-tailed eagle and red kite and will welcome the first osprey in 200 years this summer.

Calls have also been made to bring back the wolf and lynx but it is hoped the sturgeon would be a less controversial candidate.

The campaign is calling for an expert forum to be established to examine all the species that have gone extinct in Ireland and develop an action plan for further reintroductions.