3.1.7 Case study: Permanent ban on sterlet sturgeon Acipenser ruthenus fishing in Serbia

Institution/Author: WWF Adria/Duška Dimović, Goran Sekulić

WWF Adria sent the official request to the Ministry of Environmental Protection in June 2018, requiring a 5-year sterlet fishing ban in the Republic of Serbia. This letter was supported by the national association of anglers and association of commercial fishermen, but also by IUCN Sturgeon Specialist Group. In order to support official request for a sterlet fishing ban, the scientists prepared the assessment on the status of sterlet sturgeon Acipenser ruthenus in Serbia. The assessment included distribution of sterlet in freshwater ecosystems in the Republic of Serbia, types of sterlet habitats, identification of specific habitats important for biological needs such as: spawning, wintering, growth, nutrition and migration, description of abiotic factors of sterlet habitats: depth, substrate granulation, temperature, velocity flow, conductivity, water transparency and analysis of published scientific papers on the distribution of sterlet and their habitats. Regarding fishing activity, sterlet catch data in Serbia for the past 20 years was collected and fishing areas management plans along the Danube were analysed in order to collect information and data on habitats for spawning, threats and the amount of catch. The assessment included also a list of factors of threat and proposal of protection measures. Finally, as part of the assessment mentioned above and collected data, detail map of spawning habitats of sterlet in Serbia was prepared. The maps also included information about the average water temperature, sediment granulometry and water depth. Reasoning for this initiative was based on the analysis of the status of the sterlet and the drastic decline in the population. WWF Adria recognised the necessity to intensify the protection regime of this species to enable the survival and recovery of this valuable indigenous species in the fresh waters of the Republic of Serbia. Lack of comprehensive analysis of the populations of sterlet in the territory of Serbia, and well-supported reasons to conclude that population is subject to intensive fishing pressure, including poaching, required urgent and immediate application of the precautionary principle and the principle of conservation of natural resources. The Study has shown that the sterlet is intensively fished during the catch season, but also during the closed season, when fishing is prohibited to allow undisturbed spawning. There was also a problem of fish catch below the minimum landing size, which prevented the population to recover and establish a sufficient size to become stable and self-sustaining. As a proof of the extensive fishing pressure on sterlet population,  trade  of  the  sterlet  below  the  minimum  landing  size  at  the  markets was  common  and  very  widespread, as well as in shops and  restaurants in Serbia (mainly in the Danube Region). A national campaign was launched in June 2018 to introduce ban on the sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus) fishing in Serbia. The campaign was supported by the United anglers of Serbia and Associations of commercial fishermen of Serbia.  In December 2018, the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Republic of Serbia introduced  a permanent fishing ban on sterlet, that came into a force from 1st January 2019 (through the Regulation for conservation and protection of fish stocks).

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