Second “Sturgeon Watchers” mission: volunteers help save Danube Sturgeons
Sturgeon survived the age of the dinosaurs, but they now are teetering on the edge of extinction. The several Danube species of sturgeon include beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), which can grow up to 7 meters in length and used to migrate as far as Ulm in Germany. Today, Beluga sturgeon is found only on the lower Danube, but facing extreme pressure from loss of habitat for spawning and especially poaching.
“Following last year’s pilot, we adapted the format for the monitoring, involving activists in a volunteer mission accompanying the relevant authorities on one of their patrols”, said Inna Hoch, Ichthyologist at WWF-Ukraine and Coordinator of the project.
This year the volunteer mission started when the sturgeon youngsters’ downstream migration began. Thanks to the scientists of the Southern Scientific Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography and the Danube Biosphere Reserve, a ban on traditional herring fishing was promptly introduced which is critical for downstream migration.
Together with the experts of the Danube Biosphere Reserve, Sturgeon Watchers monitored migration of young sturgeon in the Danube Delta by trawling. They captured three young sterlets (Acipenser ruthenus) and one very young (not older than three weeks) beluga (Huso huso).
“On the one hand, this is a positive indication of the presence of natural spawning in the Danube River, because no re-stocking of sturgeon was undertaken last year in Ukraine nor in other Danube countries. The presence of such a young Beluga may indicate that it could appear on spawning grounds near Isaccea (Romania) in front of the Ukrainian Orlivka, in the spawning grounds recently discovered by Romanian ichthyologists. This spawning ground is located at the lowest point of Danube. On the other hand, the absence of other Danube sturgeon species shows the unsatisfactory or critical conditions of their populations,” added Inna Hoch.
Together with the “Vylkove” Department of the Izmail Division of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine volunteers conducted delta patrols. Also, the camera that was installed on the Ukrainian bank of the Danube last year was checked. “We watched fishermen ‘pull a tonia’ (i.e. apply a floating fishing net). “Tonias” have names and clear time frames for each fishing team. Our volunteer team stopped every boat. Border guards checked all the documents: I must say fishermen need a lot of documents! Another reason was to check which net is in the boat. This is important, because each net type is specific to a certain fish species,” said Ekaterina Vasilenko, Volunteer.
The patrolling of the delta continued with the inspectors of the Odessa Fisheries Patrol. Sturgeon Watchers joined them in checking fishing nets.