Despite fishing bans, pressure on Europe's last wild sturgeon populations is growing.
In the lower reaches of the Danube River, on the border between Bulgaria and Romania, the last populations of wild sturgeon breeding in Europe have been preserved. Surviving the last 200 million years, today these amazing creatures are threatened with extinction. Despite bans in the region, poaching is booming. According to the latest WWF study from 2021, wild sturgeon meat and caviar are sold freely on the Bulgarian market, and the number of confiscated illegally used fishing gear is increasing.
Why do sturgeons disappear?
A total ban on catching and selling wild sturgeon from the Danube and the Black Sea is currently in force. However, adult specimens still fall prey to poachers due to the high cost of their caviar on the black market. Between the autumn of 2016 and the summer of 2020, a WWF team collected 145 samples from retail chains in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. After being subjected to isotope and DNA analysis in a German laboratory, it became clear that a third of them were marketed illegally. In Bulgaria, out of 32 samples, 6 were sold illegally and 4 were of proven wild origin. The fears are that the real levels of illegal trade and sturgeon catching are probably many times higher than the registered ones.
"The reasons for the extinction of sturgeon are complex, but poaching and illegal caviar trade are certainly among the most serious threats to the species. To catch sturgeon, poachers use long ropes with hooks and weights, which they place at the bottom of the Danube - they are called "infants" and are prohibited from use. However, the data show that in 2020 alone, 260 such ropes were removed from the river - the most for the entire period since 2016. The total length of all captured infants for the period from the Bulgarian part of the Danube is over 23 kilometers. " - commented Ekaterina Voynova, Senior Species Conservation Expert at WWF.
What does WWF do for sturgeon conservation?
Sturgeons are an unmistakable indicator of the ecological status of aquatic ecosystems and have an indispensable place in them, as they live long, reach sexual maturity late and use different habitats. While International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies them as the most endangered group of species in the world. That's why WWF is working hard to protect their natural habitats. In the last seven years, the team of the environmental organization has launched into the waters of the Danube Vetren, Lom and Belene over 77 thousand marked chigi, Russian sturgeons and cod. WWF specialists conducted the one-of-a-kind rescue operation after a poaching hunt in 2019, providing first aid to a pregnant cod and returning it to the river, along with inspectors from Executive Agency for Fisheries and Aquaculture. In addition, WWF ichthyologists are actively working in the field with local fishing communities to protect sturgeon populations in the Danube and the Black Sea. Experts help Institutions in the fight against poaching, smuggling and trafficking, conducting research and specialized training of staff to facilitate the work of regulatory authorities have created a number of manuals and determinants.
Open your eyes, the animals are disappearing!
This Christmas WWF launches the campaign "Open your eyes, the animals disappear", with which he wants to direct public attention to pcrimes against wildlife in our country, which seem to go unnoticed in everyday life. Everyone can get involved in the fight against wildlife trafficking, poaching, illegal fishing, the use of prohibited hunting and fishing gear, by supporting the campaign of wwf.bg/коледа.
Let us together build a future in which people live in harmony with nature!
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