3 February 2014 - Sturgeons with their long bodies
and in many cases their l great size belong to one of the
oldest existing families of teleost fishes (Osteichthyes).
Most of them migrate from coastal waters to spawn in fresh
waters. Many sturgeon species are threatened and their populations
are dramatically declining. Overexploitation, habitat loss
and fragmentation, and disruption of migration routes are
the most severe threats to sturgeons.
According to the World Sturgeon Conservation
Society, the Danube is the only river system in Europe able
to protect the existing but decreasing sturgeon stocks.
The decline of Danube sturgeons is clearly documented by
the rapidly decreasing catches in the last decades, and
any delay of actions is highly detrimental for their survival:
in Bulgaria, total annual catches fell from 63.5 t in the
1940s to 25.3 t in 1995-2002, in Romania from approximately
1,144 t in 1940 to less than 8 t in 1995.
six species of Danube sturgeons are listed in CMS Appendix
II and the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser sturio)
is also listed on Appendix I. Five of them, Beluga (Huso
huso), Stellate Sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus),
Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), Ship
Sturgeon (Acipenser nuvidentris) and Atlantic Sturgeon
are listed by IUCN as Critically Endangered.. Only the Sterlet
(Acipenser ruthenus) is assessed as Vulnerable.
To implement conservation measures efficiently,
monitoring of sturgeons is essential. However; quantitative
information on Danube sturgeon populations and their spawning
and overwintering sites is hardly available due to very
Against this background, the CMS Small
Grants Programme is funding a project contributing to the
conservation of sturgeons in the lower part of the Danube
river basin. The project aims to implement a comprehensive
marking and monitoring system of restocked sturgeons to
close the above-mentioned knowledge gaps. The project is
being carried out by the WWF Danube-Carpathian Program (DCP)
in Bulgaria in coordination with the Bulgarian Ministry
of Environment and Water and the Executive Fisheries Agency
at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
project will contribute to the implementation of the Bulgarian
National Action Plan on Sturgeons. WWF DCP Bulgaria is already
implementing activities in this context, including field
research of sturgeon habitats, identification of sturgeon
spawning grounds along the Bulgarian Danube, strengthening
the Danube sturgeon population through restocking with sturgeons
of Danube origin, preparation of tri-lateral management
measures (Bulgaria-Romania-Serbia) as well as stakeholder
networking with scientific (national and international experts)
and inter-institutional advisory councils.
Stoyan Mihov, of WWF DCP Bulgaria, explains:
“The money from the CMS Small Grants Programme will
allow additional data collection and effective marking of
sturgeons for restocking. Future actions will focus on the
implementation of a comprehensive tagging system, where
at least 50,000 young restocked sturgeons are tagged, released
(with the participation of institutions, media and local
communities) and monitored. The release of tagged sturgeons
will not only contribute to strengthen the very low populations
in the wild, but it will also ensure the quality of future
restocking programmes because the origin of individuals
taken for reproduction will be easy to track and inbreeding
will be avoided.”
Proper and coordinated marking will enable
efficient monitoring and advance knowledge on population
data, habitat use and migration routes. Furthermore, the
marking system will serve as basis for effective conservation
measures at national level, as well as concerted multi-lateral
measures of all Lower Danube Range States. All project data,
including marking and monitoring results, will be published
on an electronic sturgeon portal.
Photos courtesy of Stoyan Mihov.
THE PROJECT OF THE MONTH
During the 2012 round of the Small Grant
Programme a total of 75 applications was received and 12
projects were selected for funding. In the coming months
each of these projects will be featured on the CMS website
in a new “Project of the Month” series that
will show the activities that are taking place within each
project and the conservation impact on the species concerned.
The Small Grant Programme supports projects
that are implemented on the ground with a strong focus on
the conservation of species listed in the CMS Appendixes.
It shows that CMS can really make a difference when it comes
to improving the status of the species concerned working
in close contact with the local communities.
During the period 2012-2014 the Programme is being generously
funded by UNEP.