2,801Grants to


Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 10251197

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 10251197) - Beluga, European or Great Sturgeon - Awarded $10,000 on December 31, 2010


The Danube preserves some of the most important sturgeon populations of the world, with Romania and Bulgaria holding the only viable wild stocks in the entire European Union (EU).

However, illegal harvest of sturgeons and trade in caviar pose the greatest direct threat to their survival and are reportedly wide-spread in the two countries - despite strict catch and trade bans in place. In addition, the area is on a major trade route for caviar from the Caspian Sea to the EU. There are indications that local aquaculture operations are involved in the laundering of wild caviar from the Caspian region. However, clear evidence was missing to substantiate these illegal activities in order to initiate stronger counteractions by relevant authorities.

An under cover market survey - carried out with support of The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund in 2011 and 2012 - has now thrown light on illegal activities and provides strong evidence that sturgeons are poached and illegal caviar is offered for sale in Romania and Bulgaria.

Of 30 genetically analysed caviar samples obtained from selected shops, restaurants, markets, street vendors and sturgeon farms in the two range States (14 each in Romania and Bulgaria) as well as in Austria as a consumer country (2),
- 5 were sold as from wild-caught sturgeons, with at least 4 being from the Critically Endangered and highly sought-after Beluga Sturgeon (Huso huso),
- 8 samples bought in fish shops or from street vendors did not have the mandatory CITES labels,
- 3 samples were mislabelled, with DNA analyses indicating other species than declared on the CITES label,
- 5 samples were mixtures containing caviar from more than one species of sturgeon.
All these are clear violations of national and EU regulations.

These results are distributed to responsible agencies and decision makers in source and consumer countries and used as key proof of the urgent need for stronger action to stop overexploitation and secure survival of Danube sturgeons.

The full report in English can be found at http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/illegal_caviar_trade_in_bulgaria_and_romania.pdf

A preliminary desk study summarises reported legal and illegal trade

Main activities of the project were:
1. compiling up-to-date background information and data as basic evidence of illegal caviar trade in RO and BG
2. gathering evidence of illegal caviar by market surveys and DNA analysis
3. increasing awareness and understanding of enforcement needs among key stakeholders

The survey was an important basis for a 3-year EU funded project which is now conducted by WWF in the region. This project works with fishermen, enforcement authorities and other important stakeholders in order to increase their awareness and knowledge about sturgeons and their conservation.
More on the project at www.danube-sturgeons.at  

Project 10251197 location - Romania, Europe