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© WWF/Vesselina Kavrakova
Sturgeons are among the oldest fish in existence. They are 250 million years old and have outlasted the dinosaurs, but according to the IUCN, today they are one of the most endangered species on the planet.

Currently, 25 sturgeon species inhabit the northern hemisphere. The 6 species in the Danube River are some of the most important globally because Romania and Bulgaria hold the only -- still -- viable wild sturgeon populations in the European Union. Five of them are now listed as critically endangered. There was a time when giant, 7-meter long Beluga sturgeons migrated up the Danube as far as Germany and provided livelihoods for many fishing communities along the Danube. No longer.

Illegal fishing – principally for their caviar – is the main threat to sturgeons, but loss of spawning sites and habitat is also a problem. Dams have cut off the sturgeon's migration routes. Diking and draining of 80% of the Danube's former floodplains has removed important spawning and feeding areas. Because sturgeons do not reproduce annually and live long-– up to 100 years – they are particularly vulnerable to these threats and take many years to recover.


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Our solutions

WWF expert holds a baby sturgeon during a Danube research expedition rel= © WWF/Ekaterina Voynova

Policy work: WWF led the development of the Danube Sturgeon Action Plan, which has been adopted by the Bern Convention and endorsed by the Council of Europe. Danube governments have formally committed themselves to implementing the plan. WWF is currently working with Serbia and Romania to restore migration across the Iron Gates dams, which would double the range of their migration. We are also lobbying governments on the lower Danube to maintain bans on fishing and to address the illegal trade in caviar. The Danube Stugeon Task Force, which WWF helped establish, is leveraging additional support from governmental and non-government stakeholders.

Restocking: We are pushing relevant authorities to support restocking of sturgeon on the Lower Danube, and promoting restocking ourselves. So far, WWF has released 50,000+ sturgeons in the Danube.

Scientific research: Since we still do not know enough about sturgeons, scientific work is key to our efforts to protect them. Our priority is to identify the species’ critical habitats, better understand their behaviour and ascertain their remaining population.

Engaging fishing communities: In our research, we aim to train and involve fishermen so they can use their expertise for conservation and benefit from alternative income. We also work with fishermen to identify and develop alternative livelihoods.

Raising awareness: We promote awareness of sturgeon and their plight among the general public, fisher communities and decision makers. We provide information and training to trading companies and customs and enforcement officers so that they can better observe and enforce CITES international trade regulations for the survival of sturgeons.