Originating 200 million years ago, sturgeons are an ancient migratory fish which is today teetering on the brink of extinction. Currently, 25 sturgeon species inhabit the coastal waters, rivers and lakes of the northern hemisphere.
The Danube River basin preserves some of the most important sturgeon populations in the world today, with Romania and Bulgaria holding the only – still – viable populations of wild sturgeons in the European Union.
Although they have outlasted the dinosaurs, nowadays sturgeons are the most endangered animals on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Until the 19th century, giant sturgeons migrated up the Danube as far as Germany and were important mainstays for many fishing communities. But today five out of the six species native to the Danube are listed as critically endangered.
Illegal fishing – principally for their caviar – is the main direct threat to the survival of Danube sturgeons. Habitat loss and disruption of spawning migration are further threats to sturgeon survival.
Danube sturgeons play an important role as indicators of healthy ecosystems. They live mostly in the Black Sea, migrating up the Danube and other major rivers to spawn. They get up to 6 meters long and can live to be 100 years old. Due to their long life cycles and late maturity, sturgeons are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and to other threats, including pollution and habitat fragmentation, with stocks taking many years to recover.
In 2005 an international expert workshop on Danube sturgeons, organized by WWF, resulted in the production of the comprehensive “Action Plan for the conservation of sturgeons (Acipenseridae) in the Danube River Basin”. Endorsed by the Council of Europe and adopted by the Berne Convention, the action plan is a benchmark for Danube sturgeon research and conservation activities. The present project is aligned with this action plan.