According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sturgeons are the most threatened fish species worldwide. Of the five surviving sturgeon species in the Danube basin, the IUCN Red List categorises four as critically endangered and one as vulnerable. Population trends for all five are decreasing. Within the EU, the lower Danube and north-western Black Sea area is the only region still holding viable, naturally-reproducing sturgeon populations.
Overexploitation is the main direct threat to Danube sturgeons. Except for the sterlet in Serbia, national fishing bans for all sturgeon species are in place in all lower Danube and Black Sea countries, and trade in caviar from wild sturgeons is forbidden.
The financial losses experienced by fishing communities affected by these bans contributes to illegal fishing of the depleted sturgeon stocks. It is imperative that alternative sources of income for these communities can be found.
LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS builds on the work in Bulgaria and Romania of an earlier LIFE project (LIFE11 INF/AT/000902), which created a network of sturgeon advocates.
The overall objective of the LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS project was the survival and recovery of sturgeons in the entire lower Danube region and their long-term protection against illegal fishing and trade. It aimed to contribute to halting and reversing Danube sturgeon losses throughout the species range. In so doing, the project would contribute to meeting the goals of Priority Area 6 (Biodiversity and Landscape Diversity) of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, as well as to three of the goals of the Sturgeon 2020 programme (capacity-building and law enforcement, socioeconomic measures in support of sturgeon conservation, and raising public awareness).
The project would focus on determining the needs of the most crucial target groups to achieve a consolidated and enduring improvement for Danube sturgeons throughout their range, including parts of Serbia and Ukraine.
An evidence-based impact evaluation tool would be applied to rate levels of commitment/awareness and responsibility of the three main target groups and determine whether there has been a change in attitude and engagement.
Specific objectives by 2020:
- Increase the capacity of authorities to enforce laws banning illegal sturgeon fishing and trade;
- Increase acceptance of the need for a ban amongst fishing communities in the lower Danube;
- Increase acceptance of and willingness to find alternative income sources amongst these fishing communities; and
- Increase knowledge of the (illegal) market for sturgeon products and retailers awareness of the ban and the need for its enforcement.
The LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS project influenced the implementation and further development of policies and legislation related to sturgeons in several EU Member States, and successfully contributed to the implementation of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. Through its focus on policy issues and awareness-raising measures, the project team contributed to improving the conservation status of Danube sturgeons, which are economically-valuable fish that are highly threatened by over-exploitation.
Sturgeons are poached for their meat, though more important is the illegal trade in caviar. The conservation status of sturgeons in the Danube is classified as ‘critical’, and further fishing threaten their survival. The project team mainly targeted law enforcement agencies, fishermen and market actors in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and the Ukraine.
Awareness-raising measures aimed to improve knowledge about sturgeons and the need for their conservation in the targeted countries. The project established Sturgeon Advocates, who regularly visited 25 fishing communities along the Danube and the Black Sea coast where fishing for sturgeons used to take place. These Sturgeon Advocates played a key role in facilitating cooperation between the project team and fishermen. Eleven business plans for fishing villages in Romania, the Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria were developed, and one business case for alternative income to sturgeon exploitation was demonstrated in Romania.
An important project result was that the awareness-raising measures led to an extension of the hunting bans for sturgeons in Romania and Bulgaria for a longer period of time (now even unlimited in Romania); and sterlet was included in a total fishing ban for sturgeons in Serbia with the support of fishermen, for example, the United Anglers of Serbia and the Association of Commercial Fishermen.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).