The World Wildlife Fund said Monday that as much as one-third of all sturgeon and caviar in the region is illegally fished.
The Romanian branch of the nature group said that a 2016-2020 study uncovered massive poaching of the fish which is prized for its eggs along the Lower Danube, particularly in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.
It said that authorities in those countries were investigating 214 separate cases of illegal fishing of the protected species.
It said the study offered “for the first time evidence of widespread poaching and illegal trade of caviar and wild sturgeon” along the Lower Danube where the fish spawn.
The Lower Danube is one of the last remaining places in the world where sturgeon live and breed.
It said that information about poaching wasn’t widely available until the current study.
“It provides clear evidence that illegal fishing and trade of wild sturgeon continues at a regional level at a fairly serious level.”
„There are very few studies about the sturgeon trade… … This is the only one to use two of the most up-to-date forensic methods which are crucial for detecting illegal trade,” said Arne Ludwig, an expert at the Institute for the Study of Wildlife from Leibniz, and a specialist in the Sturgeon Group which co-authored the report with the WWF.
Groups say poaching is rife due to to corruption, organized crime and desperation among poor fishing communities.
The study looked at sturgeon and caviar sold in the four countries. It analyzed the DNA to see where the fish came from. They also questioned sellers and waiters about where they sourced their fish, and some ” gave false information.”
Sturgeon fishing has been banned in Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine and restricted in Serbia.
Romania’s environment minister Tanczos Barna in March announced a total ban on wild sturgeon fishing for undetermined period in Romanian waters. He said the move would protect the species under threat from poaching.
Minister for Environment, Waters and Forests, Tanczos Barna said that he’d signed an order extending the current ban “for an undetermined period.”
From 2016 to the end of 2020, Romania and Bulgaria reported 82 cases of poaching each while Ukraine had 50 cases, the report said.
„This market study shows us the serious impact of poaching on the last remaining wild sturgeon and how vital it is for us to fight to save them,” said Cristina Munteanu, WWF-Romania project manager.
“It’s essential to start a monitoring study soonest to show the effects of the protection methods undertaken so far.”