A high level meeting organised by WWF in Ukraine brought together experts and relevant authorities and environmental groups from Ukraine and Romania to consider how to save the Danube and Black Sea populations of sturgeon.
Sturgeon species have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, 200 million years ago, but for the past few decades their population has dramatically declined. As a result, in 2000 the industrial fishing of sturgeons in Ukraine was prohibited and all native species of those rare fish were included in the Red Book of Ukraine. To conserve the population of wild sturgeon fish, it is now important to unify the efforts of authorities, scientists, local communities, environmental NGOs, and all concerned naturalists, both Ukrainian and foreign.
On the 23rd of May 2017 in Odessa WWF-Ukraine organised a Romanian-Ukrainian meeting on cooperation about the ways to protect sturgeons and their products. “WWF has been working in the Lower Danube countries for some time to overcome the main threats to sturgeon fish: blocking of migration routes, illegal fishing, and other factors contributing to their decline. In 2016 we started raising awareness of this issue in Ukraine. The purpose of the meeting was firstly communication between government regulatory bodies of both countries, as a response to requests from the reformed State Agency of Fisheries in the Odessa region, and to promote dialogue and coordination between Ukrainian and Romanian parties” – reported WWF project coordinator in Ukraine, Natalia Gozak.
The dialogue took place with the support and participation of the Regional Council of Odessa and the Odessa Regional State Administration, leading experts and the director of the Danube Biosphere Reserve (Ukraine). The head of the State Agency of Fisheries in Odessa region Serhiy Yurchuk, Chief of the Vilkovo Border Guard Service Bohdan Humenyuk, an expert from SE “Southern Research Center Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography Odessa” Serhiy Bushuyev and state environmental protection inspectors “Fishers protection patrol” were sitting on the table with the Romanian guests.
“This was the first high-level meeting dedicated to the protection of the Red Data Book sturgeons in the transboundary region in 40 years. We have to be fair, honest and feel it is our personal responsibility to identify the problems in this area” – remarked the Director of the Danube Biosphere Reserve (Ukraine), Oleksandr Voloshkevych.
The Romanian delegation was led by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment of Romania, Ion Cimpeanu, with the participation of the newly appointed governor Malin-Mateo Musetescuseveral, other key representatives of Biosphere Reserve “Danube Delta” (Romania) and WWF-Romania. “Nature has no borders so we are here to collaborate” – said Malin-Matei Musetescu. “The Biosphere reserve is rich in biodiversity and sturgeons are one of its treasures. Different Romanian organisations have already begun protecting sturgeon, but there is still a lot to be done. There has been a prohibition on Sturgeon fishing for 10 years. During this time a total of 1 million young fish were released into the Danube waters, at the cost of €1 million per year. By working together, we can restore the sturgeon populations to a level of economic sustainability. Eventually, the intention is to harvest wild caviar commercially for culinary, rather than scientific purposes”.
During the meeting, participants discussed researching and protection of wild sturgeon habitats, reintroduction and stocking, communication with the market and customers, lobbying at the political level, and communication with fishing communities and businesses.
“It is important for us that the meeting was productive and with maximum involvement of all parties” – emphasized Natalia Gozak. Among the issues discussed that require close cooperation by all parties in future s a result of the meeting, all parties agreed to cooperate closely in future was the significant difference in penalties for illegal fishing of sturgeon between the two countries. In Ukraine the penalty for illegal sturgeons fishing is 100,000 UAH, but if the fish is sold at the market, then it is confiscated with an insignificant penalty of 170-510 UAH. At the same time on the Romanian side of the Danube, the illegal fishing fine is 1,500 EUR, and after a second offense – a criminal conviction with three years in prison. Most importantly, trade of wild sturgeon in Romania is usually punished with 6 months in prison.