The Project

LIFE for Danube Sturgeons

Sturgeons are the most endangered fish worldwide, with few natural habitats left for them to call home. In the EU the only region still holding viable, naturally-reproducing sturgeon populations is in the Lower Danube and North-Western Black Sea.

The project “LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS” focuses on saving the flagship fish of the Danube – sturgeons. The reasons for the decline are complex, but lack of awareness and information is a root cause of the most important one, overexploitation. Despite strict legal protection, illegal fishing and trade in meat and caviar from wild sturgeons still endanger the last survivors of these ancient and iconic fish species.

Seven organisations from six countries team up to take care of a better protection of sturgeons. Together with fishing communities, alternative income sources will be researched and developed to reduce the dependency on formerly prestigious but now illegal activities. Law enforcement agencies will be supported in building capacity and enhancing their fight against poaching, smuggling and illegal trade. In addition, the markets for caviar and sturgeon meat will be closely monitored and informed about legal requirements.

Project title: Sustainable protection of lower Danube sturgeons by preventing and counteracting poaching and illegal wildlife trade

Project acronym: LIFE for Danube Sturgeons

Project countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine

Project duration: October 2016 – December 2020

Project Management and co-ordination: WWF Austria

This is a project under the European Commission’s LIFE programme for the environment and climate action.

Goals & Main Objectives

The project aims to contribute to halting and reversing losses in the EU and worldwide, specifically adding to the EU Strategy for the Danube Region as well as to the program for the protection of Danube sturgeons “Sturgeon 2020” in the following sections:

  • Capacity building and law enforcement;
  • Socio-economic measures in support of sturgeon conservation;
  • Raising public awareness.

“LIFE FOR DANUBE STURGEONS” aims to stop the threat to highly endangered sturgeons in the Lower Danube and northwestern Black Sea region caused by illegal fishing and trade. The project’s planned activities intend to achieve significant and improvement in sturgeon species status.

This is pursued by improving enforcement of laws and regulations through the following activities:

  • National workshops to facilitate networking and exchange of experiences of all national agencies responsible for implementing regulations concerning sturgeon fishing, aquaculture and trade;
  • Discussions of problems and best practice approaches to enhance law enforcement and investigation processes;
  • Invitation for participation of prosecution and judicial authorities to strengthen the essential cooperation of the entire enforcement chain;
  • A regional workshop with agencies from neighbouring countries to foster the crucial cross-border coordination and collaboration;
  • Specific training courses, study visits, targeted information packages and newsletters to respond to the needs of individual authorities and enhance expertise and practical skills of officials.

Furthermore, fishing communities are actively supported as they depend in various degrees on the natural resource that has to be protected. Project activities explicitly aim at tackling the problem – the poaching of sturgeons despite catch bans. That is done in the following ways:

  • Sturgeon Advocates act as mediators, raising awareness of fishermen for the need for sturgeon protection and for observance of legislative measures;
  • Business plans and concrete business cases are developed to offer alternative income sources in major fishing communities.
  • Involving fishermen and other affected stakeholders in the revision process of law enforcement procedures to increase acceptance of control measures and compliance with legal provisions.

Another key objective within the project is to research the availability of legal and illegal sturgeon products on the market and share the findings with the relevant bodies, institutions and stakeholders. Ultimately, the respective retailers will be made aware of legislation that will prevent illegal products from reaching the market.

Location & Target Groups

The importance to conserve and protect the existing sturgeon stocks is more outstanding than ever. However, the high global responsibility to do that stays with Romania and Bulgaria, two of the lowest-income EU Member States, as well as Serbia and Ukraine, one being a candidate country and the other one – a potential candidate for accession to the EU.

The project focuses on the 3 key target groups in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine:

  • Fishermen and fishing communities, including young people;
  • Law enforcement authorities;
  • Shops, restaurants, markets, catering companies offering sturgeon meat or caviar.

While main activities are organised around the needs of those three main groups, interaction with other stakeholders is also continuous throughout the entire project to include scientists, protected area administration, NGOs, decision makers on national, local and EU level, EU and international bodies, companies breeding sturgeons or dealing with caviar, interested general public, including potential caviar consumers and residents of the Lower Danube and Black Sea regions who are not directly involved in fishing but are still somehow engaged with the activity as such.

Funding & Partners

The project is coordinated by WWF in Austria with participation of the following beneficiaries:

 LIFE for Danube Sturgeons is financed by the European Union and all partners. The EU’s financing is coming from its financial instrument – LIFE Programme, that supports environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU.

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