Use of endoscopy for gender and ovarian stage determinations in Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) grown in aquaculture

Avshalom Hurvitz, Karen Jackson, Gad Degani, Berta Levavi-Sivan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


The Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) is native to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. It used to breed in the main incoming rivers, until dam construction in the mid 20th century blocked upriver spawning migration. Aquaculture of Russian sturgeon has only recently begun, prompted by their declining populations in natural habitats and the rise in meat and caviar prices. However, information on their gonadal development and puberty under culture conditions is incomplete. Because sturgeons have no external sexual dimorphism and there are no external markers for sexing, internal examination of the gonads must be employed for gender identification as well as to monitor their development. The present study describes endoscopic and histological observations of the gonads of young Russian sturgeons aimed at identifying gender and monitoring ovarian developmental stage in females up to the age of 6 years, when they enter their first puberty cycle, as well as at 7 years of age, when they have completed vitellogenesis, under culture conditions. This information, as related to fish age and size, is of vital importance to commercial farming of Russian sturgeon for caviar production and reproduction. For gonadal observations in both sexes, we used an endoscopic system consisting of a 4 mm, 14 cm long cystoscope sheath incorporated with fiber-optic light transmission, connected to a halogen cold light source and a miniature videocamera with a control unit attached to a color monitor. This system allowed us viewing of the fish's abdominal organs, and to save pictures of selected areas of the gonads on a computer as the fish's personal record. Ovarian biopsies were taken in parallel for histology at typical stages of gonadal development. Gender could be identified with this system as early as at 3 years of age and the sex ratio under culture conditions of females, males and unidentified gender were 55, 40 and 5%, respectively. Not only did large differences occur in the developmental stages of female of the same age group, but also ovarian development was highly asynchronous at the early vitellogenic stages. In late vitellogenesis, at the "gray egg" stage (1600-2600 μm diameter), the oocytes were quite regular in size and color, and remained so until the final stages of maturity. Our study suggests that endoscopy is an efficient method for both gender identification at an early age, and for determination of gonadal development stage in sturgeon aquaculture. The ability to see the whole intact gonads of anesthetized fish can reveal important management and research information, with minimal damage or stress to the fish.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)158-166
Number of pages9
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - 28 Sep 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is supported by a research grant from the Israeli Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports, Regional R&D, No. 01-18-00372.


  • Endoscopy
  • Gender identification
  • Ovarian histology
  • Sturgeon


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