This is the first time anything like this has been achieved in the Southern Hemisphere, said Juan Carlos Uribe, director of the Smolt project, who are responsible for this scientific achievement. Countries and organisations have been trying for a number of years to succeed in breeding young sturgeon.
There are 25 species of Sturgeon, all of which are endangered. There are very few establishments in the world that keep sturgeons in captivity. Fifteen years ago, the University was awarded white sturgeon stock through an initiative involving the Chile Foundation and the Institute of Fomento Pesquero (IFOP).
The University has many previous successful experiences in breeding aquatic species, and the Fund for the Promotion of Scientific and Technological Development (FONDEF) encouraged the University to apply that knowledge to sturgeon.
Successfully breeding the species in captivity, is particularly important considering the current markets. Mr Uribe believes that the aquaculture industry is collapsing due to overfishing, pollution of water bodies and the construction of dams on top of other factors, all of which have decimated the native population of these species.
The diminished population of white sturgeon has made it difficult to access caviar - a much desired and very expensive product. In 1990, 3,500 tonnes of caviar was produced worldwide. Today, that figure is only 100 tonnes. By managing to breed sturgeon in captivity, the university has opened up doors of opportunities with regard to commercial production of the "black pearls". White sturgeon caviar can reach $1,700 per kilo. White sturgeon meat is also valuable as the oily texture tastes different from most traditional fish and has the added benefit of an abundance of Omega3, says Mr Uribe.
Funding of $384 million was provided by FONDEF for the project which aimed to produce eggs from young white sturgeon stock and siberian sturgeon on an industrial scale in Chile. It is by means of this initiative that the University of Los Lagos has been able to focus on this species and successfully breed sturgeon.
For the researchers of the Smolt project, this discovery has provided them with great satisfaction, not only because of the profits but also because it is the first time that reproduction of sturgeon has taken place in captivity.
The projects success has obtained the first generation of captive white sturgeon collected in the southern hemisphere. The fertilised eggs were incubated and monitored, to ensure that embryonic development was completely normal. Larval production and hatching were successful, and the offspring are soon to begin the first feeding stage.
For years it was thought that the reproduction of this species in Chile was impossible. This impossibility meant there could be no commercial cultivation in Chile, as without reproduction, there could be no cycle of cultivation and the importation of eggs from endangered species proved difficult.
The successful development of this technology is a unique opportunity, which will allow Chile to become a powerful producer of white sturgeon meat and caviar. The development is considered one of most importance for the aquacultural industry, as the species have such a high commercial value as well as presenting opportunities for diversification. Mr Uribe adds that the development has also allowed Chile to contribute actively and directly to the preservation of endangered species.