Poaching is the main threat to the survival of sturgeon in Lower Danube, warns new WWF analysis

With all sturgeon species in Europe now facing extinction, a WWF-CEE report details the alarming scale of the ongoing illegal catches of these iconic fish, which is the main threat to the survival of remaining sturgeon species in the Lower Danube.

The report, a unique endeavor that compiles data across Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine, is the only one of its kind examining the regional problem of sturgeon populations that migrate between these countries.

With 337 cases of illegal activities involving sturgeon recorded between 2016 and 2022, the study highlights the risk to the four remaining species in the lower Danube – three of which are Critically Endangered (the beluga, the stellate and the Russian sturgeon), while the other, the sterlet, was upgraded to Endangered last year. The study includes 130 cases from Bulgaria, 125 from Romania, and 82 from Ukraine, ranging from violations of fishing bans and regulations, seizures of illegal fishing gear, and the illicit trade of sturgeon and sturgeon-based products.

“These alarming figures prove that poaching and illegal trade of wild sturgeon continues across the Lower Danube, undermining efforts to save these iconic fish – especially as we know that many more sturgeon crimes go unreported,” said Beate Striebel, WWF Sturgeon Initiative Lead. “Sturgeon have swum in the Danube for millions of years but we will lose them forever if we can’t halt the illegal catches and trade of wild caviar and meat.”

Highlighting the severity of the situation, a minimum of 955 sturgeon specimens were seized in total – with 3 in Bulgaria, 553 in Romania, and 399 in Ukraine. Yet this is only the tip of a much larger undetected iceberg, underlining the destructive impact of poaching and illegal trade on the last remaining wild sturgeon stocks. Vratsa in Bulgaria, Tulcea in Romania, and Odesa in Ukraine emerged as the main hotspots – representing over 1/3rd of reported cases in each country.

“This report is a clear call for action – a reminder of the urgent need for countries and organisations to scale up efforts to halt sturgeon crime along the Danube. WWF has been working with governments, partners and communities to tackle poaching and illegal trade, but clearly much more needs to be done,” added Beate Striebel.

The report is also related to the activities of WWF Bulgaria, WWF Romania and WWF Ukraine, partners of the LIFE SWiPE project, on wildlife crime.

For additional information and to access the report: WWF CEE press release