Shortly before the beginning of the holiday season, Spanish television RTVE launched their new documentary on sturgeons. RTVE wants to remind people, especially those who enjoy eating fish and fish products, what it takes to have fresh fish on the table; and how the drive for enjoying one of the most luxurious foods in the world is bringing the Danube’s dinosaurs to extinction. Sturgeons are currently categorised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the most critically endangered group of species.
High quality companies that are dedicated to not only succeed in their business of selling sturgeon caviar, but also to inform their customers about the challenges to preserve one of the oldest fish species in Europe, are very difficult to find – just like the Danube’s sturgeons themselves. The price of sturgeon caviar is high due to the fact that it takes at least 8 years, sometimes even more depending on the type of sturgeon species, for sturgeons to become mature and ready to reproduce. Other factors that bring the caviar’s price up is the embedded association of caviar being a sign for luxury (for example caviar of Beluga sturgeon can cost up to 10,000 Euro per kilo) and “the hallmark of fine dining,” as described by The Guardian in one of their latest articles on the topic. Actually, it does not take much effort for people to contribute to sturgeon protection – as long as they check for the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) label on the caviar tin when buying. On the one hand, this simple check of whether the tin has the correct labeling helps wild sturgeons to survive, on the other hand, it discourages illegal trade.
RTVE’s documentary digs deeper into the issue of sturgeon survival and tries to identify the main reasons for their disappearance from the Danube River. Is it the ever-growing appetite of humans for rare foods, or the greed for making a fortune? To answer these questions and many more, such as how does the sturgeon extinction affect fishermen and the local economy, the RTVE’s crew went to Tulcea, Sfantu Gheorghe and Jurilovca (Romania) and met with WWF-Romania sturgeon experts Cristina Munteanu and George Caracas.
WWF is well-known in the Lower Danube for conservation activities, including releasing young sturgeons into the river, monitoring fish species, riparian forest restoration, etc. However, this is not the reason they were approached by RTVE. For the past several years, WWF-Romania, together with their colleagues in Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria have been focusing their work to save sturgeons by building trust and working collaboratively with the local fishing communities. Imposing fishing bans is not enough to save endangered species because the human factor remains unresolved, and very often neglected. Fishing communities like the one in Sfantu George depend largely on sturgeon fishing. Since the ban’s introduction in 2006, the city has been on the edge of poverty. Cristina and George, part of the LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS team, work with the local fishing communities to find alternative business opportunities while sturgeon populations take their time to stabilise. They also act as mediators between fishing associations and national law enforcement authorities to ensure that the fishing communities get heard and their voices respected, while at the same time laws are applied with no exception.
The Esturión de Vuelta documentary ‘’ is one of the very few films that present the sturgeon disappearance issue in perspective and put the survival of the local fishing communities in the centre. Regardless of how dedicated Cristina, George and their colleagues are in their work, the only chance for sturgeon survival remains in the hands of the locals, whose traditions have been linked with these extraordinary species for decades.
To see the two episodes of ‘Esturión de Vuelta’, visit the RTVE website.