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Decades of Global Sturgeon Conservation Efforts Are Threatened by an Expanding Captive Culture Industry

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After centuries of overexploitation and habitat loss, many of the world's sturgeon (Acipenseridae) populations are at the brink of extinction. Although significant resources are invested into the conservation and restoration of imperiled sturgeons, the burgeoning commercial culture industry poses an imminent threat to the persistence of many populations. In the past decade, the number and distribution of captive sturgeon facilities has grown exponentially and now encompasses diverse interest groups ranging from hobby aquarists to industrial-scale commercial facilities. Expansion of sturgeon captive culture has largely fallen outside the purview of existing regulatory frameworks, raising concerns that continued growth of this industry has real potential to jeopardize conservation of global sturgeon populations. Here, we highlight some of the most significant threats commercial culture poses to wild populations, with particular emphasis on how releases can accelerate wild population declines through mechanisms such as hybridization, introgression, competition, and disease transmission. We also note that in some circumstances, commercial captive culture has continued to motivate harvest of wild populations, potentially accelerating species' declines. Given the prevalence and trajectory of sturgeon captive culture programs, we comment on modifications to regulatory frameworks that could improve the ability of captive culture to support wild sturgeon conservation.

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