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What can we do to save them?

Measure #1: Restocking

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Logo of LIFEBoat4Sturgeon

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Darya of WWF Ukraine (© WWF Ukraine)

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Release juvenile sterlets (© BOKU)

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Juvenile sterlets (© Christian Fürthner)

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Russian sturgeon (© WWF Ukraine)

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Sturgeon release (© WWF Ukraine)

Restocking remains crucial to maintain stable populations in the Danube. Dedicated organizations, including WWF and the LIFEBoat4Sturgeon project, collaborate with scientists and aquaculture companies to ensure that reintroduced sturgeons have a genetic connection with the Danube.

However, sturgeon breeding is expensive. Per individual sturgeon, depending on the country of release and species, costs range between a handful to hundreds of euros. That is why projects need long-term financial support by governments and civil society. 

Measure #2: Law enforcement

In 2021, Romania banned sturgeon fishing indefinitely as one of the last countries, making sturgeon fishing in the Danube illegal. This great success is thanks to years-long intense lobbying by environmental organizations. Maintaining this pressure is necessary because bans have to be re-evaluated every few years. With sturgeons at at the brink, it's better safe than sorry. 

 

Although fisher folks have the deal with the consequences, preventing the total extinction of sturgeons in the Danube is also in their interest. But despite compliance by many communities, illegal poaching for meat and caviar still exists in the lower Danube. This 'wild' caviar still finds it way to unsuspecting customers. Therefore, WWF and the EU invest heavily in training of police officers and volunteer 'sturgeon watchers' to check compliance with these bans.

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Measure #3: Fish passages

Since the industrial revolution, millions of dams have been built in European rivers. This has had disastrous consequences for migratory fish species. If rivers are the arteries of the living world, dams are surely the blood clots. There are hundreds of dams on the Danube and its tributaries, preventing sturgeons and other fish to access their spawning grounds. The Iron Gates Dams I and II on the Romania-Serbia border have had the most severe impact on sturgeons, with all sturgeon species (except the sterlet) beyond the dams going rapidly extinct after their completion in 1972 and 1984.

 

While many dams have a concrete function and provide hydro-energy for communities, a growing proportion of them have become obsolete, fit for removal. Returning rivers to their free-flow state brings with it socio-economic benefits and security for communities. Dam Removal Europe is an umbrella organization for river restoration. In 2023 it celebrated 487 removed barriers from European rivers! Minimizing the build-up of new barriers to be built is of course equally important.

 

When dam removal is not possible or desirable, fish passages remain the only option for restoring fish migration. The We Pass project is an international consortium exploring the construction of fish passages in the Iron Gates I and II. This would 'open up' almost 1.000 km of extra river for fish migration and lead to the recovery of sturgeons in the Middle Danube. This ambitious and expensive project can only succeed with the long-term backing of society and governments.

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The Iron Gate 1

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Schematic overview of the first phase of We Pass

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Dam removal in the Ukrainian Danube Delta (© Maxim Yakovlev)

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