Romania has extended the full sturgeon fishing ban in the Danube for an additional five years. Bulgaria had already extended a similar ban in January. This means sturgeon fishing in the river will be prohibited until at least 2021.
It is interesting that the Romanian ban covers five sturgeon species while the Bulgarian extends to four. Both countries list the Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), the sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus), the stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus) and the beluga (Huso huso), but the ship sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris) is mentioned only in the Romanian ban. This is because the Bulgarian Red Book lists ship sturgeons as extinct in the Danube. When preparing its own ban, Romania used data from the global IUCN Red List of endangered species, which lists ship sturgeons as critically endangered rather than extinct. The last documented case of catching a ship sturgeon in Romania was in the fifties of the 20th century. This means it is not verly likely that the fish can still be found in the river.
The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser sturio) has undoubtedly disappeared from the Danube. Its presence in the river was only documented until the beginning of the 20th century.
According to senior WWF-Romania freshwater project manager Christina Munteanu, the extension of the ban was a necessary, but an insufficient measure. Munteanu says it is necessary to create alternative income opportunities for fishermen that are related to habitat conservation. Munteanu also mentions the need for adequate conservation stocking programmes and measuring the result of conservation activities.
WWF-Bulgaria Director Vesselina Kavrakova is of the same opinion: the Bulgarian ban is only one of the factors that can help populations recover. Of key importance is preserving sturgeon habitats. In that past several years, WWF-Bulgaria experts have studied the status of sturgeons and their habitats in the Bulgarian section of the river. Even after months of fieldwork and hundreds of cast nets, the studies are still at a very early stage and the scientific data on sturgeons is insufficient. It is, therefore, necessary to continue the studies because we can take effective measures to protect sturgeons only if we know more about their breeding areas, Kavrakova says.
Conservation stocking is another way to help the species. Over the past two years, WWF-Bulgaria released over 50,000 small sterlets in the Danube. However, stocking with genetically pure Danube species should also be carried out by governments along the Lower Danube, Kavrakova said.
WWF-Bulgaria is currently preparing a new expedition to explore the populations of sturgeons in the Bulgarian section of the Danube with the participation of WWF and external experts, as well as scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The expedition is financed by donations.