New evidence of systematic violations from the Lower Danube region | WWF

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New evidence of systematic violations from the Lower Danube region

Almost a third of the samples of sturgeon products bought through WWF’s market survey were illegal, and 214 cases of poaching related incidents were recorded by authorities.

WWF’s new market survey provides first-time evidence of the actual scale of poaching and illegal trade of meat and caviar from wild-caught sturgeon in the Lower Danube Region; specifically in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. This is one of the last places on Earth where critically endangered sturgeons survive and still reproduce.
 
Illegal sturgeon fishing and trade in their products are often cited as significant threats to many sturgeon populations worldwide. However, until now, substantiated data has rarely been available. The survey provides proof that illegal fishing and trade in wild sturgeon is happening on a regional level and on a rather serious scale. The unique survey methodology combined official data on illegal fishing activities from competent authorities and the results of a large-scale market survey and forensic analysis of meat and caviar samples between October 2016 and July 2020.
 
DNA and isotope analysis showed that of the145 samples tested, 19% proved to be from wild sturgeon and 17 samples of caviar were sold without compliance with mandatory CITES regulations (illegal import into the country of purchase, sold without mandatory CITES labelling, or not having correct codes for species or country of origin). It is also proves that suppliers (salespersons, waiters, etc.) provided deceptive information. In one case, meat sold as farmed was proven to be wild. The reverse was also true in several cases when products declared as wild sturgeon proved to be farmed, or to be meat from European catfish or Nile perch. This indicates a worrying consumer demand for illegal, wild-caught sturgeon products.
 
Samples were collected in the Lower Danube and in the north-western Black Sea region from sturgeon populations that share the same migratory routes. Testing points covered the entire trade chain and included various types of retailers such as shops and supermarkets, restaurants and bars, local markets, aquaculture facilities, intermediaries, fishermen and online offers.
 
Even though all fishing and trade of wild Danube sturgeon species was prohibited in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine during the study period, and only the catch of Sterlet above 40 cm total length was allowed in Serbia until the end of 2018, 214 cases of illegal poaching-related incidents were recorded, which clearly indicates the continuous violation of laws and regulations that should protect these species.
 
The survival of these highly threatened wild sturgeon species in Central and Eastern Europe is dependent on continuous and increased efforts to reduce the threat of wild sturgeon trafficking. WWF’s report is designed with the aspiration to shed light on the situation, inform responsible actors, contribute to the intelligence for future enforcement activities, foster the exchange of relevant data among different authorities and between sturgeon range countries, and encourage regular market surveys by the responsible authorities.
 
Although a permanent sturgeon fishing and trade ban was introduced in Serbia in 2019, at the initiative of WWF, the report indicated that poaching and illegal trade are still factors that threaten the survival of sturgeons on a daily basis. It is necessary to strengthen trade control, improve inter-agency coordination and cooperation, as well as border controls, on which WWF Adria will work with partners through the project Successful prosecution of wildlife crimes in Europe (LIFE SWiPE),” said Andrea Solić, Wildlife Program Manager at WWF Adria.
 
The project LIFE SWiPE aims to discourage, and ultimately reduce the number of wildlife crimes, through better enforcement of EU environmental regulations and more successfully prosecuted crimes, helping thus restoring the endangered European biological diversity and ecosystem health. One of the main focuses of the project is work on combating illegal trade in wild species, among which sturgeons are one of the most endangered.
 
Market Odessa, Ukraine

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