The sturgeons weighed about 150-300g and were from two very different species: the smaller one, the sterlet, only lives in freshwater and will remain in the Delta region throughout its entire life. Its bigger relatives from the so-called “Russian sturgeon” soon after their release swim toward the Black Sea. There they spend five to six years until they reach an adult stage and are ready to migrate back to the Danube to spawn. Sturgeon recovery is a long-term effort and the released fish will face many threats in their young lives. WWF Ukraine, thus, works with fishermen to increase their chances for survival. Eventually a few of them will come back and contribute to a stronger wild sturgeon population by laying eggs in the Danube River.
"Sturgeons are the most valuable fish of the Lower Danube. They are an important part of river and marine ecosystems, though still the most threatened group of species in the world. WWF-Ukraine systematically works to restore sturgeon populations. We have come a long way to be able to proceed with sturgeon restocking this year. This event is especially valuable for us as one of the measures to preserve Ukrainian natural heritage", — Оksana Konovalenko, Freshwater lead of WWF-Ukraine.
The released sturgeons were bred in the Odessa Sturgeon Complex. As in modern aquaculture a lot of different species and hybrids are used, the DNA of the fish was carefully analyzed in specialized laboratories in Germany before the release to confirm that they are from Danube origin. All little sturgeons were tagged which will allow scientists to identify them again, when they are caught for monitoring in the Danube and Black Sea waters. Such monitoring provides valuable data for future conservation efforts.
"Nature is a home that we must preserve for future generations. This is not the first time we have restocked the Danube river, and due to such work, an increase in the number of sturgeon species has been observed by specialists of the Institute of Marine Biology and by the Danube Biosphere Reserve. We thank WWF-Ukraine for the opportunity to participate in such a project one more time. It was long and difficult, but we did it, we did it together. Thank you, I hope for further fruitful cooperation", — Katrechko Viktor, Director of the Odessa Sturgeon Complex.
Sturgeon restocking during the war was conducted for the first time and was an extremely challenging initiative. The event was supported by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, the State Agency of Development of Reclamation, Fishery and Food Programs of Ukraine, specialists of the Odessa Sturgeon Complex and by the Danube Biosphere Reserve.
The Danube is one of the few European rivers still hosting sturgeons, but all remaining four species are listed by the IUCN Red List as threatened species. “Together we can!”, says Bohdan Vykhor, CEO of WWF-Ukraine, stating the slogan of the WWF Network. “Beyond everything, this event has a symbolic meaning, because it shows how public organizations, business and the State can cooperate together for the conservation of endangered biodiversity”, he continues.
The release is part of a national Action Plan for sturgeon recovery in Ukraine which is embedded in the framework of the Pan-European Action Plan for Sturgeon adopted by all Signatories States of the Bern Convention and endorsed by the EU Habitats Directive. “Sturgeon protection will need a true European effort, as these migratory fish depend on the cooperation of all countries in their range. This is particularly true for the Danube River Basin, the world's most international river basin.”, says Beate Striebel, WWF Sturgeon Initiative leader.
This restocking of the Danube River with sturgeons was conducted with the support and funding of WWF-Netherlands together with Rewilding Europe. Learn more about WWF’s Sturgeons work in Central and Eastern Europe here.
For more information, please contact Oleksandra Tkach, Communicator WildLife Communications officer, WWF-Ukraine, firstname.lastname@example.org, +380 66 53-59-225