As pure freshwater species, the sterlet does not need to migrate to the Black Sea. The sterlet is the most common sturgeon in the Danube River Basin and the only one found above the Iron Gate Dams. But even their fate is not looking too prosperous, as according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the sterlet population fell by about 70 percent in the 20th century.
Whereas fishing of all sturgeon species is now banned or permanently forbidden in most Danube and all Black Sea range countries, fishing for sterlet is still allowed and regulated with closed seasons and minimum catch sizes in Croatia, Slovakia and parts of Austria. Serbia introduced a permanent ban on sterlet fishing recently, entering into force on January 1, 2019. WWF-Adria's initiative was supported by United Anglers of Serbia and the Association of Commercial Fishermen. “A strict enforcement of this ban and a monitoring of its effects are important to follow suite,” said Vesna Maksimovic, Sturgeon Project Officer, WWF-Adria
This need was again demonstrated by the detection of illegal sturgeon catches in the Tisza River recently. Since sturgeons like to swim on the gravelly bottom, the present low water level in the Tisza River has enabled poachers to set nets under more favourable conditions in the shallows. This was the case when fish wardens discovered 7 young sterlet trapped in an unmarked 80 metre net on July 21 at the Tisza's 51st km. The fish were immediately released and returned alive to the river, as required by law.
Fish wardens of the Zrenjanin Nature Reserve, responsible for the Banat fishing area, will continue to monitor the situation and search for the perpetrator.
While it is yet another indication of continued poaching of the most endangered group of species on the planet, the good news is that it is proof that some sterlets still remain in Tisza River.
In order to better coordinate and boost conservation efforts for sturgeons in Serbia, an expert advisory group has been formed in Serbia last month, consisting of representatives of legislative bodies, scientific institutions, users of fishing areas and fishing associations working on fish stock protection, veterinary medicine and legal questions. This open-ended group wants to ensure the rapid exchange of information among key decision-makers, but also to improve their mutual cooperation in conserving sturgeons and preventing illegal activities that threaten their survival. A recent training by WWF-Adria in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Protection was held to improve the detection, prosecution and sanctioning wildlife crime. The workshop was attended by more than 80 representatives of state bodies, including inspectors, police representatives, prosecutors and judges throughout Serbia.
Increasing the knowledge of these fascinating species and support to conservation efforts, that have been around this place on earth since the dinosaurs is one of WW’Fs main goals, and has recently led to the creation of a virtual exhibition on Danube sturgeon species.
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WWF is engaged in sturgeon protection measures in most Danube countries, for example through the Life for Danube Sturgeons Project. Sturgeons used to be present in almost all European rivers, but today seven out of the eight species of sturgeon on the European continent are threatened with extinction. Sturgeons have survived the dinosaurs, but now teeter on the brink of extinction. The Black Sea Region is crucial to the survival of these species in Europe. The Danube and the Rioni River in Georgia are the only two rivers remaining in Europe where migrating sturgeons reproduce naturally. The main reasons are overfishing and loss of habitat through dams that block migration routes or in-river constructions, facilitating navigation. These are often detrimental to the feeding and spawning habitats, necessary for sturgeon survival. Within the EU the only river with naturally reproducing sturgeon populations remains the Danube. Crucial but no longer reproductive stocks are left in the Po River in Italy and the Gironde in France. Restocking activities take place in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, France, Germany, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands. Our priority is to identify and protect the critical habitats of the remaining four sturgeon species (Huso huso, Acipenser stellatus, A. ruthenus, and A. gueldenstaedtii) in the Lower Danube and north-western Black Sea, as well as to reduce pressure on their remaining populations by addressing poaching and ensuring protection.