Sturgeon are almost never seen in UK waters either in the sea or inland. However, occasional non-native sturgeon species get introduced to our waterways the Environment Agency seeks their removal. There has been an introduction of sturgeon into French waters since 2017 so the chances of seeing one in UK waters has been raised slightly higher than it used to be. Sturgeon are protected in law, and quite rightly so that this ancient species be given a chance to thrive.
In a way sturgeon do enjoy a long held protection for like whales under ancient law established in the thirteenth century by Edward II, they are royal fish. This means that they effectively belong to the monarch. Boston was in a good position because Elizabeth I had given the Corporation rights over such fish caught in its waters. The early seventeenth century saw records of sturgeon being presented by Boston to various people of note:
“In 1615 a keg of sturgeon and other fish were sent to the Earl of Exeter. In 1622 sturgeon was presented to the Earl of Lindsey and other persons. In 1652 sturgeon and other fish to Sir Henry Vane; and in 1664 a keg of sturgeon to the Earl of Lindsey.”[i]
In 1662 a fisherman of Frampton was paid 20s. “for his pains in taking a sturgeon, and bringing the same to Boston.”
Looking at old press records it appears that reported incidents of capturing large sturgeon in the estuaries of the East coast became rarer and almost unheard of from the late nineteenth century.
In 1869 a sturgeon was caught at Cowbit:
“On Saturday 22nd of May, the inhabitants of the quiet village of Cowbit were somewhat alarmed in consequence of a cartilaginous visitor having taken up his abode near to the residence of the Revd. J.T. Dove. When first seen in the Soke Dyke on the side of the slope, many attacked him with forks and even fired shots at him, but of no avail; at last Mr Henry Pickering and a few others went out in a boat and captured the huge creature in a net, and brought him to land amidst the plaudits of the people who had assembled to inspect what turned out to be a sturgeon, commonly called the ‘Royal Fish’. His length was 8ft. 9in. and weight 196lbs. or 14 stones. He was brought to Spalding and exhibited, and a very handsome sum realized by the exhibitor.”[ii]