Sturgeons in the Danube Basin

Sturgeons represent a natural heritage of the Danube River Basin and key indicator species for high ecological quality of rivers. Their dramatic decline in the last decades has become an issue of basin-wide importance that got the attention of the Danube countries and the European Commission.

There are six species of sturgeons native in the Danube River Basin, of which the beluga (Huso huso) is the most famous due to its role in caviar trade and its impressive size of up to six metres. The other species are of the genus Acipenser, A. gueldenstaedti, A. nudiventris, A. ruthenus, A. stellatus and A. sturio - the latter is considered extinct in the Danube River Basin.

To work towards the conservation of the Danube sturgeons, the program “Sturgeon 2020” was developed to ensure viable populations of sturgeon and other indigenous fish species by 2020.The key measures contained in this program are aimed at habitat protection, restoration of migration routes, supportive stocking programs, economic alternatives to sturgeon fishery, fighting illegal fishing and the caviar black market, ecological education, the harmonization of legislation and law enforcement.

These measures are grouped into six interconnected key topics:

  • Acquiring political support for sturgeon conservation
  • Capacity building and law enforcement
  • In-situ sturgeon conservation
  • Ex-situ sturgeon conservation
  • Socio-economic measures in support of sturgeon conservation
  • Raising public awareness

With its Sturgeon Strategy, adopted in December 2017 at the ICPDR Ordinary Meeting in Vienna, the ICPDR is contributing to the effort ensuring the survival and recovery of sturgeons in the Danube River Basin. More information is available here.

A first follow-up step was the organization of a Sturgeon Conference under the 2018 Austrian EU Presidency in July 2018 in Vienna. The event was organized jointly by the ICPDR and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT). All presentations, agenda and related documents as well as the key messages of the Conference are available for download

The development of the “Sturgeon 2020” program was pursued through the “Danube Sturgeon Task Force”, a network of national and international public entities, NGOs and academic institutions founded in 2012, in which the ICPDR is participating. The aim of the DSTF is to foster synergies of the existing organizations and support the conservation of the highly endangered native sturgeon species in the Danube River Basin and Black Sea by promoting the implementation of the “Sturgeon 2020” program.

The DSTF operates in the frame and with direct support of Priority Area 6 (Biodiversity and Landscape Diversity) of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, aiming to harmonize the sectoral policies under an integrative approach, balancing the environmental protection with the social and economic requirements at regional level.




  • Acipenser stellatus.
  • Cover of the Sturgeon 2020 program.
  • Acipenser stellatus.
  • Cover of Danube Watch 1/13 with a sturgeon focus, featuring a photograph by Ralf Reinartz.
  • Releasing A. stellatus in Tulcea, 2013.
  • If caviar is consumed, it should be from sustainabley farmed sources such as this one presented in Tulcea in 2013.
  • Releasing A. stellatus in Tulcea, 2013.
  • Releasing A. stellatus in Tulcea, 2013.
  • Releasing A. stellatus in Tulcea, 2013.
  • Releasing A. stellatus in Tulcea, 2013.
  • Ancient sturgeon hunting, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna.
  • Stuffed sterlet in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna.
  • Acipenser ruthenus (Sterlet)
  • Huso huso (Beluga)



  • » Dams & Structures
    Since the 16th century, people have been changing the natural course of the rivers in the Danube River Basin, mainly for flood defence, hydropower generation and navigation. All these changes affect the ecological quality of the rivers. Changes in the depth or width of a river typically reduce flow rates, interrupting natural sediment transportation as well as the migration routes of animals.
  • » Ecosystems
    A river does not end at its bank. The Danube and its tributaries form many diverse riverine habitats, including intricate networks of water bodies, creeks and channels, floodplain forests, water meadows, lakes, gravel islands, sandy banks and the unique delta habitats by the shores of the Black Sea.
  • » Plants & Animals
    The habitats created by the Danube and its tributaries host a unique mix of species. But many habitats are degraded by man-made changes to the river profile and width, water depth and flow velocity following the construction of dams, weirs and canals. Many migratory fish including sturgeon species and the Danube Salmon are endangered or close to extinction by being disconnected from their spawning grounds and habitats or by being over-exploited.
  • » Guiding Principles on Sustainable Hydropower
    Following a request by the Danube Ministerial Conference 2010, the ICPDR has become active in initiating a dialogue with representatives from the hydropower sector. As an essential step in this process, "Guiding Principles on Sustainable Hydropower Development in the Danube Basin" have been developed by an interdisciplinary team and were finalised and adopted in June 2013.
  • » Danube Watch 1/2013
    Focus on Danube Sturgeons ICPDR Presidency 2013: Bosnia and Herzegovina – diversity for the river basin 2013: International Year of Water Cooperation
  • » Danube Watch 1/2015
    Joint Danube Survey 3 ICPDR Presidency 2015


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