The beluga // or European sturgeon (Huso huso) is a species of anadromous fish in the sturgeon family (Acipenseridae) of order Acipenseriformes. It is found primarily in the Caspian and Black Sea basins, and occasionally in the Adriatic Sea. Heavily fished for the female's valuable roe—known as beluga caviar— the beluga is a huge and late-maturing fish that can live for 118 years. The species' numbers have been greatly reduced by overfishing and poaching, prompting many governments to enact restrictions on its trade. The most similar to the Huso huso beluga is the Huso dauricus kaluga, also referred to as the "river beluga".
The beluga is a large predator which feeds mostly on fish. Fish weighing up to half its own size are ingested. They also eat waterfowl and seal pups. Due to its aggressive behavior and large mouth, it is a potential man-eater, but no attacks have been confirmed.
As do many sturgeons, the beluga travels upstream in rivers to spawn. Accordingly, sturgeons are sometimes likened to sea fish; however, most scientists consider them to be river fish.
The largest generally accepted record is of a female taken in 1827 in the Volga estuary at 1,571 kg (3,463 lb) and 7.2 m (24 ft). Several other records of aged sturgeon exceed 5 m (16 ft). These great sizes mark the beluga as the largest freshwater fish in the world, and as a rival in size to the ocean sunfish among all extant bony fishes. The Beluga also rivals the Great White Shark, and the Tiger Shark for the title of largest predatory fish. The giant belugas are much larger than the Mekong giant catfish or the arapaima. Nevertheless, some scientists still consider the Mekong giant catfish to be the largest true freshwater fish, owing to sturgeons' ability to survive in seawater and that it spends much of its life in brackish environments.
Beluga of such great sizes are very old (continuing to grow throughout life) and have become increasingly rare in recent decades due to the heavy fishing of this species. Today, belugas that are caught are generally 142–328 cm (4.66–10.76 ft) long and weigh 19–264 kg (42–582 lb). The female beluga is typically 20% larger than the male.
Beluga caviar is considered a delicacy worldwide. The flesh of the beluga, on the other hand, is not particularly renowned. Beluga caviar has long been scarce and expensive. The endangered status of the fish has made its caviar more expensive than before.
IUCN classifies the beluga as critically endangered. It is a protected species listed in appendix III of the Bern Convention, and its trade is restricted under CITES appendix II. The Mediterranean population is strongly protected under appendix II of the Bern Convention, prohibiting any intentional killing of these fish.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has banned imports of beluga caviar and other beluga products from the Caspian Sea since October 6, 2005 after listing beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
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