MEASURES - Poaching and illegal trade pose major threat to migratory fish in Europe


With all but one of Europe’s remaining sturgeon species facing extinction, a new report details the scale of the poaching and illegal trade in wild sturgeon caviar and meat in the lower Danube and Black Sea, which threatens the survival of these iconic fish.

WWF’s new market survey found that one third of the sturgeon meat and caviar products in four key sturgeon countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine – were sold illegally. Specifically, 19 per cent of all samples came from wild sturgeon, which cannot currently be legally caught or traded anywhere in the region, while another 12 per cent did not comply with international trade regulations.

Samples of sturgeon caviar and meat were collected in the Lower Danube and in the north-western Black Sea region – two of the last places in Europe that still harbour naturally replenishing sturgeon populations. The samples were taken from across the entire trade chain, including restaurants, bars, shops, supermarkets, local markets, aquaculture facilities, fishermen and online offers. All samples underwent both DNA and isotope testing.

The study also incorporates official data on poaching and illegal fishing activities. Overall, 214 cases of poaching-related incidents were recorded from 2016-2020 in Romania (82 cases), Bulgaria (82 cases) and Ukraine (50 cases) – countries where all fishing for, and trade in, wild Danube sturgeon species are prohibited.

These incidents included seizures of sturgeon in boats or fishing nets, seizures of illegal sturgeon fishing gear, transportation of poached sturgeon, and sale of caviar or meat of poached sturgeon. In Bulgaria alone, 594 illegal hook lines were detected, adding up to more than 23.5 km. Just last month there were several new reported poaching cases in Ukraine and Romania.

Along with its key statistical findings, the report also recommends a series of actions to enhance efforts to halt poaching and illegal sturgeon trafficking across the region. The recommendations included enhanced controls of domestic trade; improved inter-agency cooperation and coordination; increased border controls; and the use of more state-of-the-art forensic analysis and market surveys. In countries where CITES caviar labelling is not yet implemented for domestic markets, the introduction of such a provision is urgently needed.

Programme co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI)