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Tulcea, Romania, with the Danube River in the foreground. Photo by Trent Sutton.

Tulcea, Romania, with the Danube River in the foreground. Photo by Trent Sutton.

Trent Sutton, Associate Professor

Travel Report, Romania
March, 2011

In early March 2011, I was invited by the Danube Delta Biosphere Research Authority (DDBRA), located in Tulcea, Romania, to attend and present at the International Conference on the Conservation, Recovery, and Sustainable Use of Danube River Sturgeons.  The conference was held 30-31 March 2011 in Tulcea, Romania, and the DDBRA sponsored my travel expenses for this trip.  The goal of the conference was to facilitate the exchange of experiences and dialogue between national and international experts on the recovery and restoration of imperiled sturgeon stocks in the Danube River.  Currently, there are six species of sturgeon in the drainage (Atlantic, stellate, sterlet, ship, Russian, and beluga sturgeon), and all six species are highly imperiled.  I gave a presentation titled "A decision-support tool for sturgeon rehabilitation strategies: implications for restoration of Danube River sturgeons", which was co-authored by one of my former Ph.D. students (Dan Daugherty) and was very well received by conference attendees.  Other talks at the conference were given by sturgeon biologists and researchers from France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania.  A copy of my talk, as well as the other presentations given at the conference, can be viewed at the following weblink:

http://www.danubeparks.org/?area=downloads

From this conference, there will be a proceedings published later in 2011 in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology and I will submit the following manuscript, based on my talk, to the proceedings: Daugherty, D. J., T. M. Sutton, and R. F. Elliott.  A decision-support tool for determining lake sturgeon rehabilitation strategies in Great Lakes tributaries.  As part of the conference, the attendees participated in an excursion to the Danube Delta Natural History Museum, also located in Tulcea, Romania, and spent a half day learning about the ecosystems, flora, and fauna of Romania, with a specific focus on the Danube River Delta.  The final output of the conference was the development of a conference resolution, underlining the importance of the Sturgeon Action Plan to be implemented, especially river connectivity and habitat restoration, improvement of stock rehabilitation procedures, and public awareness activities.

Beluga x stellate hybrid sturgeon at the sturgeon caviar production facility in Horia, Romania. Photo by Trent Sutton.

Beluga x stellate hybrid sturgeon at the sturgeon caviar production facility in Horia, Romania. Photo by Trent Sutton.

In addition to the conference, I also attended a two-day workshop (01 - 02 April 2011) sponsored by Danube Parks to develop a LIFE+ proposal for guiding Danube River sturgeon restoration with colleagues that I had met from Romania, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria.  This effort was led by Dr. Timothy Ehlinger, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and Dr. Lucica Tofan, Ovidius University of Costanta (in Constanta, Romania).  During the workshop, I participated in the habitat protection and restoration group, which conducted a needs assessment on sturgeon habitat and migration route data deficiencies on a life-stage specific basis in the lower and middle Danube River.  Other working groups at the workshop focused on hatchery stocking practices, stocking, and education and outreach.  The workshop also included an excursion to a sturgeon caviar production facility located in Horia, Romania, where beluga, stellate, and beluga x stellate hybrids are reared for commercial caviar production.  The hatchery production staff are expecting their first harvest of black caviar later in summer 2011.

The Tulcea, Romania, riverfront.  On the left are a series of communist-era apartment complexes.  The various boats on the Danube River are used for ecotourism, commercial fishing, and the transportation of goods to downriver communities. Photo by Trent Sutton.

The Tulcea, Romania, riverfront. On the left are a series of communist-era apartment complexes. The various boats on the Danube River are used for ecotourism, commercial fishing, and the transportation of goods to downriver communities. Photo by Trent Sutton.

An outcome of my interactions while in Romania at the conference and workshop was that I was asked to participate in the development of an NSF PIRE (Partnerships in International Research and Education) proposal which will be submitted in September 2011.  The focus of this proposal will be fostering collaborative international relationships for Danube River sturgeon restoration and I will be the team leader for the UAF component of this effort.  In addition, I already have been invited by Dr. Gabor Guti from the Danube River Institute in Budapest, Hungary, to collaborate with him on sturgeon research in the middle Danube River.

The habitat protection and restoration workgroup at the Danube Parks LIFE+ proposal workshop.  From right to left are Radu Suciu (Romania), Gabor Guti (Hungary), Trent Sutton (United States), Tibor Gaebele (Hungary), Mirela Bucur (Romania), Stoyon Mihov (Bulgaria), and Dimitar Dobrev (Bulgaria). Trent Sutton

The habitat protection and restoration workgroup at the Danube Parks LIFE+ proposal workshop. From right to left are Radu Suciu (Romania), Gabor Guti (Hungary), Trent Sutton (United States), Tibor Gaebele (Hungary), Mirela Bucur (Romania), Stoyon Mihov (Bulgaria), and Dimitar Dobrev (Bulgaria).

Overall, my trip, albeit short (29 March - 03 April 2011), was a positive and rewarding experience that will lead to future collaborations with sturgeon researchers in eastern Europe as well as allow me to develop an international component to my research and education programs at UAF.  One outcome I hope to achieve in the next 1-2 years is the development of a class that focuses on the challenges of managing fisheries across international boundaries and how one deals with transboundary issues from a political, economic, and social value system basis.  Such a course would have direct relevance for undergraduate and graduate students at UAF and, as an example, could also include as a case study local issues associated with Yukon River Chinook salmon co-management across the United States and Canada among state, provincial, federal, Alaska Native, and First Nations management agencies.  Although I have had no previous involvement with any of the sturgeon species that inhabit the Danube River, Danube River Delta, and Black Sea, my research experiences involving lake sturgeon in the Laurentian Great Lakes and shovelnose sturgeon in the Wabash River drainage were very applicable to the research and data needs identified during the conference and workshop.  Sturgeons, being periodic spawners that exhibit delayed sexual maturity and infrequent strong years classes, are all influenced similarly by the same suite of abiotic (e.g., habitat degradation and fragmentation) and biotic (e.g., overharvest, poaching) factors.  As a result, my experiences in North America, where we are slightly ahead of the curve in terms of the management and conservation of sturgeons, are directly relevant to the Danube River sturgeon restoration initiative.  I look very much forward to returning to Romania and travelling to other European countries along the Danube River and participating on sturgeon restoration in this very unique ecosystem.