LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS – a project of WWF in Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine, the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority in Romania and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, co-funded by the European Union – has come to an end. In cooperation with fishermen, enforcement authorities and retailers in the Lower Danube Region, substantial improvements for sturgeons have been achieved.
In almost 1,500 personal conversations, good contacts were established in fishing communities along the Danube and the Black Sea coast. Together with members of the communities, 11 business plans were developed. New local products or services (gastronomical points selling freshly caught fish, boat trips with fishermen, e-bike rental, apple cider production or a sturgeon exhibition centre) can offer economic opportunities in areas that lost previous revenues from sturgeon fishery and consequently reduce poaching pressure on sturgeons. In Bulgaria, 24 fishermen were trained in scientific sturgeon monitoring. Of exceptional importance for sturgeon, conservation is that fishermen started to report and release sturgeon bycatch. 253 photos of 91 individual sturgeons were sent to the project team by fishermen in Bulgaria.
The legal protection of sturgeons and its enforcement in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine were improved through targeted capacity building with information brochures and videos (see PROJECT MATERIALS -> 1. Project Brochures & Training Videos) as well as with training courses and study visits for more than 600 officials. In the Ukrainian Danube delta, volunteer `Sturgeon Watchers´ joined law enforcement patrols and protected sturgeons on their downstream migration. As a result of all these measures, an increase in control activities and significantly more seizures were observed.
In terms of better governance, the achievements are remarkable as well: In Ukraine, a major legal loophole has been closed and border controls are now being carried out on sturgeons and other endangered species. In the Ukrainian Danube delta, strict fishing regulations have been imposed and a first surveillance camera is helping the authorities to fight poaching. In Serbia, as a result of a project campaign with fishermen and anglers, an unlimited catch ban for sterlet (the only sturgeon species that could still be legally caught in the region) was accomplished, which means the protection of all wild sturgeons in the entire region. The very good news is that the temporary ban on sturgeon fishing has been extended for another 5 years in Bulgaria and has even been converted into a permanent ban in Romania.
A market survey investigated the trade of sturgeon meat and caviar and found high levels of illegal trade in all four countries. Of 145 samples, 30% were sold illegally. 27 samples were from wild-caught sturgeon, 17 samples were caviar sold in violation of CITES regulations.
In addition, 214 cases of illegality were compiled from authorities. In 5 years, more than 600 sturgeon specimens were reported poached and in Bulgaria alone, a minimum of 594 illegal hook lines was confiscated. The full report and a factsheet were published and received very encouraging reactions from experts and international bodies (FAO, EUROPOL, INTERPOL, UNODC, WCO, FRONTEX, etc.).
The project team is very grateful for the support of the European Union and in particular of the stakeholders and experts in the project region and at the international level. We hope that sturgeons in the Lower Danube Region will have a better and safer future and that successful approaches to this project will boost sturgeon conservation in other parts of their range.