This month we are presenting George Caracas, Sturgeon Advocate and Project Officer in WWF Romania. He is 31 years old and has been with WWF Romania since 2012. George’s interest in nature started in his early teenage years when he entered a circle of ecologists in his hometown Tulcea. Nowadays, he is a proud owner of two cats and his professional work is in the area of conservation of the endangered Danube sturgeon species in Romania.
Sturgeon Advocates are part of the “LIFE for Danube Sturgeons” project activities and they are the live connection between local fishermen and the institutions responsible for sturgeon conservation. Sturgeon Advocates are appointed in all project countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Ukraine.
What attracted you to the role of Sturgeon Advocate?
I was born in Tulcea, a town on the Danube river bank, so I always had this special connection with the river. Going back in the past, my most vivid childhood memories are for summer vacations spent with my grandparents in Jurilovca village. I remember the river and many fishermen coming to the village to fix their fishing gear, bringing with them captivating fishing stories from Razim Lake and the Black Sea.
On the question, what attracted me to the role of Sturgeon Advocate, I would say, definitely the opportunity to work with fishermen and the cause to save sturgeons. I remember when was the first time I saw sturgeon, it was during one of my summer breaks, my grandmother took me with her to Portița and Pembina fisheries where she worked. There, for the first time I saw sturgeon and I was fascinated by the unusual fish. Now, the sturgeons in the Danube river are on the brink of extinction, due to overexploitation, so we have to give them the time to recover if we want the giant fish to be back, swimming in the Danube river.
In which communities do you have project activities?
The project “LIFE for Danube Sturgeons” in Romania covers several fishing communities and Jurilovca is one of them, which makes me very happy and extra motivated. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, things in Jurilovca changed dramatically. Now there are just a few fishermen left who struggle to survive and the fishery had been long closed. I hope via the project activities, we can create an opportunity for the local fishing community and improve a little bit the situation there. Besides Jurilovca, we have project work and visits to the fishing communities of Borcea, Fetești, Vadu Oii, Galați and Sfântu Gheorghe.
What are the main challenges in the role of Sturgeon Advocate?
As Sturgeons Advocate I had to gain the trust of the local fishermen first, before doing any project work with them. After that, it is a constant effort to meet their expectations, not to disappoint them by giving promises which are not realistic. I remember my first meeting with the head of the fishing association in Fetești. He told me that he doesn’t believe our project can change anything, but at least is good that someone is there to listen to them. This is how in the beginning they saw my role as Sturgeon Advocate. And I have to admit, it is a challenging role, as the fishermen are pessimistic about their future. They believe that in a few years time they won’t be able to fish anymore and that will be the end of the fishing tradition in their communities. At the moment, fishing sturgeon in the Danube river is strictly prohibited in Romania until 2021.
Do you register any change in the attitude of the fishermen towards sturgeon’s conservation?
Yes, there is better understanding of the problem and acceptance of the conservation measures. The communities agree in general that wild sturgeons are endangered species and they need to be protected by a fishing ban. However, the ban should come with some compensations for the fishermen, for their losses from fishing. Unfortunately, this does not happen. The locals have difficulties finding alternative income opportunities.
As a positive change, I can point at the progress made in the level of cooperation between fishermen and law enforcement authorities. In the first project “LIFE Saving Danube Sturgeons” which ran from 2012 to 2015, the level of cooperation was very low, there were moments of hostility. Now, after some years of project work and many meetings between fishing communities and authorities, they cooperate.
Which are the difficult topics to communicate to the fishing communities?
As I already said, the most difficult part is to be accepted. Once you’ve built a bridge of trust, I don’t think there are difficult topics to be discussed, as long as, one is honest with them and keeps all given promises, people are open to talk and listen.
How important is to educate the young generation in the fishing communities?
In my opinion, it is very important to educate and empower young people, to encourage them to become active citizens. Living in an isolated community can be quite challenging, due to the lack of opportunities and once they grow up, most of them are ready to move out of the fishing communities. By educating the young people about the value of nature and how responsibly to use nature’s resources, we are giving them a different perspective. Our main goal is to develop in them love for nature and intolerance towards any injustice done to nature. Hopefully, they will be the new generation of Sturgeon Advocates.