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Launch of Action Plan for European sturgeon in the Rhine

Seventy years after the last sturgeon was caught in the Rhine, a major plan has been launched to bring the species back to the river

Historically, the European sturgeon occurred in all coastal waters and main river systems of northwest Europe. The Rhine used to be a major sturgeon river too. Due to overfishing, bad water quality and canalization, the spawning population of the sturgeon in the Rhine disappeared within a period of only a few decades.

In 1953 the last adult sturgeon was caught in the Rhine. Today, the European sturgeon is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and one of the most endangered fish species in Europe, being in imminent danger of extinction.

The status of the species calls for urgent, well-coordinated and concise actions to prevent its extinction and for a concerted effort to bring it back to the Rhine - the goal of the First Action Plan for the European Sturgeon for the Lower Rhine.

"We must actively help critical species such as the European sturgeon that are on the verge of extinction to find their way back to our Dutch waters, which were once teeming with sturgeon," said Kirsten Schuijt, CEO of WWF-Netherlands. "Due to overfishing, polluted water and the canalisation of the rivers, sturgeons became extinct in the Netherlands. I am proud that we, with many partners - including ministries, provinces, knowledge institutions, the shipping sector and nature organizations - are taking big steps to bring the European sturgeon back to the Netherlands permanently."

"This way we herald a time when we regain balance with our planet and create a world in which humans and nature live in harmony," added Schuijt.

There is a small population of the European sturgeon in the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne rivers in France, protected and supported with a brood stock programme. Part of the brood stock is also used for the German European sturgeon programme, to build up an Elbe population. Strategically located between the Gironde-Dordogne-Garonne and the Elbe, the Rhine is identified as a third potential river to start with experimental releases of the European sturgeon.

Since 2009, WWF-Netherlands, ARK Nature and the Dutch Angling Association (Sportvisserij Nederland) have been cooperating intensively to investigateto what extent the Rhine is suitable for the reintroduction of the European sturgeon and started the Rhine Sturgeon Project. In 2012 and 2015 sub-adult sturgeons were experimentally released to gain insight in the behaviour and success of sturgeons in the Rhine as it is today. In 2018 an assessment was carried out, based on available literature, previous feasibility studies and data of the experimental releases. In the assessment the opportunities, potentials and obstacles were summarized, and preliminary actions and key actors were identified.

For all anthropogenic factors the potential threats, adverse impacts and potential measures were discussed and further analysed by using a SWOT analysis with all relevant key stakeholders, multiple interviews, workshops and expert meetings. All factors of influence are classified as ‘no impediment’, ‘potential impediment’ or ‘impediment’ for the return of the species or ‘insufficient knowledge available’. For the latter measures are formulated to mitigate and/or research possible effects.

The main goal (until 2030) to which the First Sturgeon Action Plan for the Lower Rhine will contribute is to finalize the feasibility and risk assessment phase and prepare the decision for an official reintroducing of the European sturgeon population in the Lower Rhine by 2030. The related work for the next 10 years, will be carried out in close cooperation with Dutch, German and French partners. The geographic scope for the Rhine Sturgeon Project and the First Sturgeon Action Plan comprises the Lower Rhine, i.e. the lower parts of the River Rhine in The Netherlands and Germany (North Rhine –Westphalia) and the Dutch part of the North Sea.

The action plan for 2020-2030 forms a framework for action andcooperation, based on an agenda agreeable for all parties involved. The agenda with all actions, planning and cost estimates are translated into a Roadmap for implementation of the Action plan in 2020-2030.
European sturgeon
Action Plan for European sturgeon in the Rhine
Critically endangered European sturgeon