• Kester Eddy

Romania Offers Lifeline to Sturgeon - Bans Fishing and Sale of Wild Sturgeon Fish and Fish Products

A short piece of good news for the day from the world of conservation.

Photo: Lockdown's nearly over for one fish! László Berzi-Nagy, assistant research fellow at the Hungarian Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture, poses with a young sterlet before its release into the Danube on the outskirts of Baja, southern Hungary, last May. (My pic.)

Romania has taken the decision to indefinitely extend its 5-year temporary ban on fishing and selling of all 6 wild sturgeon species and wild sturgeon products, according to a press release sent out today by the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Vienna office.

The decision was supported by scientific evidence gathered during WWF’s Life for Danube Sturgeon Project, and follows a long campaign by the WWF and other conservation organisations to protect the remaining stock of sturgeon living and spawning in the Danube.

"Sturgeons are long-lived species and take decades to recover from their critical status. A fishing ban without the previous 5-year limitation is the right step forward," said Beate Striebel, of WWFs Sturgeon Initiative Lead.

The Romanian move means Bulgaria remains the last country in the Black Sea Basin without a permanent ban in place, although the WWF accepted that Bulgaria

has it extended its temporary ban on sturgeon fishing in its Danube and Black Sea territory in January for another five years. A very important condition of the bans in Bulgaria and Romania is the additional requirement for fishermen to report what is termed 'sturgeon bycatch' – that is any fish caught supposedly accidentally in otherwise legal fishing operations - and release it immediately, regardless of the fish's state of health. (ie “it was more or less dead, guv, honest,” shouldn't wash with PC Plodescu any more.)

Bycatch remains a large threat for sturgeon species in the Danube and the Black Sea but very little is known about the numbers of fish that are accidentally caught. This change is significant because it will enable more efficient enforcement and help us better understand the volume and circumstances of bycatch, the WWF says. It notes too that the ban also completely prohibits the use of specialised fishing equipment used for catching sturgeon. The news is not all good, however. According to the sturgeon market survey conducted by the WWF in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine in 2016-2020, poaching and the illegal market for caviar and wild sturgeon meat are among the most serious threats to sturgeon survival in the Lower Danube basin. Although fishing and selling wild sturgeon (and products) are prohibited in all these countries, the market survey showed that poaching and illegal selling and buying of wild sturgeon and sturgeon products is widespread in the region, WWF research revealed.

It may come as a surprise to learn that six sturgeon species, including the much sought after Beluga, famed as the producer of the very best caviar, once swam their way up the Danube as far as Germany. But over-fishing, poaching and the construction of dams has limited all but sterlet, the smallest species of the six, to the Danube in Hungary.

Hungarian conservationists, in conjunction with the WWF and helped by EU financial support, are hard at work doing their best to sustain and improve the prospects of the sturgeon population in the river by releasing farmed fish into the river. Almost one year ago, in May 2020, yours truly and a friend drove down to Baja, southern Hungary, to witness one such release, which I documented in the Budapest Business Journal, here:

https://bbj.hu/economy/statistics/analysis/giving-back-to-nature-restocking-the-danube-with-sturgeon

Congratulations to the Romanian WWF activists on their lobbying success – and to the Romanian government for taking the necessary legislative steps. Let's just hope they can be effectively enforced.

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