What it takes to be a sturgeon saver

As part of the “LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS” project, WWF has been working hard to urge for regional and coordinated actions in the Lower Danube to help sturgeon populations recover. Fighting overexploitation to reverse the trend of catches that have dropped by 99% in the past three decades is a complex process that involves many of the WWF specialists as well as the support of the local fishing communities.

Saving populations of fish species that are on the brink of extinction is not easy and glamorous as one may imagine and often puts the WWF experts in extreme working conditions, spending hours in the cold waters of the river and the Black sea. Our latest video shows only a fraction of the difficulties that the experts faced in February 2019 while saving the pregnant female Beluga sturgeon, named Silvia.

Silvia was caught for caviar by a poacher and seized by the inspectors of the Executive Agency of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Tagging an individual of the size of Silvia, nearly 200 kg, required certain technique, experience and also, stamina because working in the dark and in the waters of the Danube is a considerable challenge only very few can deal with. Silvia is tagged with internal and external tags that are fixed to the dorsal fin to avoid injuries and to enable the sturgeon to move as normal. The external tag has been specially produced for WWF Bulgaria and has their contact details.

Saving sturgeons also requires persistence. For years Borislava and the rest of the WWF Bulgaria’s team have been searching for young-of-the-year sturgeons to identify and protect their spawning sites. For them, Silvia is the first female sturgeon of such impressive size. They tag every caught fish and release it unharmed back in the wild, which is only the first step of the very much needed monitoring programme, that is yet to receive political and financial support. The ultimate conservation goal of the project partners, that however goes beyond the limitations of the current LIFE project, is to put in place integrated transboundary monitoring programmes in order to measure effectiveness and impact of conservation stocking.

To support WWF Bulgaria and learn how you can help sturgeons, visit website esetri.wwf.bg