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WWF Releases more than 20,000 Young Russian Sturgeons into the Danube

Posted on 12 June 2019

WWF-Bulgaria expects that the young fish will now find suitable places to feed and grow before setting off on their journey to the Black Sea.
11-12 June 2019, Belene (Bugaria) – More than 20,000 baby Russian sturgeons (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) swam away into the Danube this week. The effort is being made to support the natural populations of this critically endangered fish. Russian Sturgeons are one of the four remaining native Danube sturgeon species, some of the last remaining in Europe. The IUCN classifies sturgeons as the most endangered group of species in the world. WWF-Bulgaria has been working for many years to protect them and their natural habitats. In fact, this is the second time the organisation has released young sturgeons into the river. In 2014 and 2015, it reared and released over 50,000 young sterlets (a relatively small species of sturgeon). The new release of the once abundant Russian sturgeons brings new hope for the species. The unprecedented event was made possible by the generous donations from WWF-Austria’s supporters, who mobilised the necessary funds to purchase the baby sturgeons from the farm which raised them in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

All of the fish are of proven Danube origin, an important condition for their success in adapting to the natural environment and to make sure that the natural populations are not exposed to further risk by introducing non-native competitors. The baby sturgeons were reared in an aquaculture facility in conditions close to what they will face in the river.

WWF-Bulgaria expects that the young fish will now find suitable places to feed and grow before setting off on their journey to the Black Sea. As their spiny bodies can get entangled in fishing nets, WWF calls on the fishermen downstream to release the little ones back into the river immediately if accidentally caught.
Currently, there is a complete ban of sturgeon fishing in the Danube and the Black Sea. Larger fish that swim upstream to reproduce still fall prey to poaching because of the high price their caviar and meat fetches on the black market. WWF warns that any products from wild sturgeons are illegal. Furthermore, such activities harm the few remaining populations of sturgeons, the local fishermen’s future income and the aquaculture facilities, which have made huge investments to produce sturgeons in accordance with environmental and health legislation.

Sturgeons are long-lived and reproduce only a few times in their life. It will take more than a decade before our Russian sturgeons return to create a new generation. This is why they are very vulnerable to overfishing and poaching. We must make sure their habitats are protected and they are allowed to grow and thrive, or we risk losing a species which has survived over 200 million years.

This most recent release is part of WWF-CEE’s long-term strategy to re-invigorate and re-establish healthy, stable populations of this key Danube species, and protect the Green Heart of Europe for nature and people. The activity complements the Pan-European Sturgeon Action Plan, recently endorsed by the European Commission under the Habitats Directive. Other reintroductions were made in cooperation with the MEASURES Project in April in Hungary and Romania.

For more information, please contact:
Roselina Peneva,
WWF Bulgaria,
+359 885995559
Sturgeon release in Belene, Bulgaria
© Tihomira Metodieva
Baby Russian sturgeon in Danube
© Tihomira Metodieva
20,000 young sturgeon released into Danube by WWF-Bulgaria
© Tihomira Metodieva