The main direct threat to the survival of the rare Danube sturgeon species (five out of the six species native to the Danube are listed as critically endangered) is overfishing for caviar production. Sturgeon fishing is traditionally engrained in local culture and often comes into conflict with the full fishing ban in place in both Bulgaria and Romania.
In order to tackle the overfishing issue, the project WWF Romania, Bulgaria and Austria implemented a joint coordinated initiative, supported by the EU LIFE fund. It covered six Natura 2000 sites and was complemented by mediation efforts with fishing communities, law enforcement agencies, decision makers, sturgeon breeders, and caviar processors and traders in Romania and Bulgaria. Fishermen’s attitudes were surveyed before and after the project, workshops were organised focusing on alternative income sources for fishermen, and training was set up for authorities. In addition, ‘sturgeon advocates’ mediated between authorities and fishermen to increase their trust of one another and ability to work together. Dissemination materials and a Code of Conduct, listing concrete preconditions that contribute to sturgeon protection, were targeted at caviar companies.
Over the course of the project, fishermen’s attitudes changed positively (from reluctance towards acceptance of sturgeon fishing ban to becoming interested in alternative sources of income). The Code of Conduct was signed by eight caviar companies, and 135 representatives of all relevant institutions in Romania and Bulgaria participated in two workshops and received training on how to recognise legal and illegal caviar and distinguish between sturgeon species. The general public was successfully targeted through the webpage in English, Romanian and Bulgarian with 2 000 views/month, and an estimated 4 million people were reached through the media and social media. The project’s targeted approach to addressing all stakeholders, and specifically tailoring communication to their interests and needs, ensured their involvement during and after the project.