Friday, November 18, 2011

Illegal Caviar Trade Threatens Danube River's Sturgeons

A Russian sturgeon

A recent report issued by the international wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has found that continuous illegal trade in caviar is weakening the survival of sturgeons in the Danube River Basin. Commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), this report revealed a total of fourteen confiscations coming from Bulgaria and Romania as reported by the EU Member States between 2000 and 2009. Both of these countries contain the only reasonable population of these fish, which outlasted the dinosaurs 200 million years ago. However, five of the six native species in the Danube River Basin are listed as critically endangered. Due to their status, fishing for them has been banned. Despite this, illegal fishing and trade in caviar continued to take the toll on their populations.
Caviar for sale in Istanbul

Although seizures of illegal caviar were reported in other EU Member States, none were reported from Bulgaria and Romania. The reason is because of the Danube's location between the two neighboring nations. Jutta Jahrl, a sturgeon expert for the WWF, stated that a ban on one side of the basin cannot have any impact on fishermen fishing for sturgeon on the other side. Bulgaria is slated to impose a five-year ban on sturgeon-fishing in 2012. According to Ivaylo Simeonov, head of fisheries monitoring at Bulgaria's National Agency of Fisheries and Aquaculture, various activities regarding the sturgeon populations will be carried out. These include restocking of fish populations and monitoring the sturgeons' status. In addition to that, an information campaign among fishing communities and better coercion of the ban are also scheduled for 2012. TRAFFIC's Katalin Kecse-Nagy, the author of the report, stated that when Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, it made the illegal caviar trade harder to spot and prevent. The reason for that was because caviar shipments to EU Member States were no longer recorded in the data by CITES.
Head study of the Russian sturgeon

I'm very much appalled by the fact that the threat of illegal caviar trade has been going virtually undetected since Bulgaria and Romania had joined the European Union. Even though both of these nations separately placed a ban on sturgeon-fishing, it did not seem to matter whether fishing on one side of the river can have an impact on another. This, in my opinion, has made both of these nations prone to such illicit activities and led numerous cases of caviar confiscations by other European nations. In 2009, German authorities seized smuggled caviar labeled as Bulgarian farmed caviar. But isotopic analysis revealed the caviar had come from the Caspian Sea, one of the most important sturgeon fisheries along with the Black Sea. This case gives an idea of how permitted caviar farming was imposed on to allow illegal caviar into the legal trade. Both Bulgaria and Romania had a history of being Communist states during the Cold War era, but now there is a new threat in the midst. The illegal trade in caviar has transformed the two nations into major hubs for the illegal trade of wildlife in Europe. I personally think that it is about time they put their foot down and raise awareness among enforcement agencies about this ongoing threat. At the same time, caviar consumers and traders should be educated about the trade, in order to keep them alert. This would further help in the battle against the illegal caviar trade. The Danube is crucial for the sturgeons as a feeder river and estuary, in which adults would swim upstream to spawn and is in a great need of help.

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