Sturgeon Found Dead on Poacher’s Hooks in the Danube, May Have Been Used as Live Bait

This is the first documented adult Russian sturgeon in Bulgaria for 17 years.

p2112514 1 300x225 - Sturgeon Found Dead on Poacher’s Hooks in the Danube, May Have Been Used as Live Bait
Thousands of fishing hooks like this have been removed by patrols near Belene-Svishtov.

Border Police teams and representatives of Executive Agency for Fisheries and Aquaculture (EAFA) carry out intensive checks on illegal activities along the Danube. During just one check of the section between the village of Vardim and the town of Svishtov last week, 14 karmaci (illegal tool for catching sturgeons) lines of with more than 700 hooks were found and removed from the water. The patrol found a single sturgeon dangling from one of the hooks, later identified by WWF-Bulgaria experts as a Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii).

Since 2007, karmaci fishing has been banned in Bulgaria as inhumane and non-selective. Furthermore, since 2011, a total sturgeon fishing ban has been in effect along the entire Danube River and the Black Sea.

“This was a young male specimen weighing just over six kilos, and that had just reached maturity. This was probably his first entry into the river for reproduction. The fish stayed entangled by its mouth, gills and head in the water for days, and maybe weeks. The lines caused deep infected wounds and ruptures. The fish may have been tied to the line and used as live bait with the aim to attract females by the pheromones it emits. It is the females that are the main target of poachers because of the high cost of their caviar on the black market.”– ichthyologist Stoyan Mihov, Biodiversity and Waters Practice Lead at WWF-Bulgaria.

Unfortunately, the fish was already dead when it was discovered. No chip was found in its body, which means that it was a wild sturgeon. WWF experts took samples from the specimen’s pectoral fins to accurately determine its age. DNA samples will also be sent to a laboratory in Germany to identify the species of the fish. If the information is confirmed, it will be the first Russian sturgeon officially documented in Bulgaria since 2003.

“Sixty to seventy years ago, Russian sturgeons were the most common and most caught sturgeon species on the Danube. However, today they are critically endangered. There have been only a few documented specimens in the Danube River in the last decade. Therefore, it is extremely important that we protect their habitats and stop poaching. Otherwise, we risk losing a valuable species that has survived for millions of years; a species that important is not only for the river ecosystem, but also for the traditional livelihood of the Danube fishing communities.” advises Mihov.

Precisely because Russian sturgeons are critically endangered, WWF released 20,000 3-month old sturgeon of this species into the Danube last summer. A few weeks later, some of them had reached the Danube Delta and are now in the Black Sea. The restocking was made possible by a crowd funding campaign organised by WWF-Austria.

The Russian sturgeon is among the last four sturgeon species still found in the Danube. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies sturgeons as the most endangered group of species in the world. For this reason, protecting their natural habitats is an important part of WWF-Bulgaria’s work.

Just a year earlier, a 2-metre, 200 kg female beluga, was rescued near Silistra. The pregnant fish, named Sylvia, was seized by EAFA’s fishing inspectors after being caught by poachers in the Danube River near the village of Aydemir. A WWF team took care of her, then tagged her with a tracking marker and dropped her back into the river. Unfortunately, the signal from the fish was not reconfirmed at either Bulgarian or Romanian science stations along the river. This means that she probably did not survive or was recaptured by poachers. WWF warns that any wild sturgeon product is illegal and seriously harms not only the few remaining sturgeon populations, but also the future income of local fishing communities.

For more information:
Vladimir Ivanov
Communications Manager
Tel: +359 2 950 50 41

Stoyan Mihov
Biodiversity and Waters Practice Lead,
Tel: +359887796187