Invasive species and over-fishing reduce fish stocks in the Black Sea

Photo: BGNES

The last day of October is marked as International Black Sea Day. Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Convention for the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution from the six Black Sea countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia.

In 1996, the governments of the Black Sea countries recognized that pollution of our common sea posed risks for all border countries. However, what is the status and ecology of the Black Sea today?

"In terms of pollution, it can be said that there is a general improvement," says Dimitar Popov of the Green Balkans Foundation for the Protection of Nature. „In the last 20-30 years, most studies have found a restoration of the purity of seawater. This is largely due to the legislation adopted, mainly at EU level, which has significantly improved the quality of discharged water in rivers, especially the Danube. In the last 10-15 years there has been an improvement in the status of the waste water treatment infrastructure – most of the sewage treatment plants on our coast have expanded. However, they still do not manage to reach the necessary capacity for the needs of the summer tourism.

While experts report progress, there are also unresolved issues on the horizon, one of which is biological pollution. Invasive species and over-fishing limit fish stocks. It is unlikely that the biological reserves of the Black Sea will ever reach their levels from the past, warns Dimitar Popov:

"Across the world, solutions are being sought through the creation of aquaculture. There are none on our coastline, with the exception of the Black Mussel Farms, which are a very successful business, supporting the natural purification of the Black Sea waters. Fisheries ports have been set up along our coast under a European operational program, but what are we doing to improve the state of the fish stock? I don't think it would not be bad if some of the measures under this program focused on the creation of aquaculture and methods to provide us with the much-desired seafood, but not at the expense of over-fishing."

Signals of dead dolphins along the Bulgarian coast this summer have alarmed the public and raised fears of a drastic decline in their population. The three species of Black Sea dolphins – the short-beaked common dolphin, the harbor porpoise and the Black-sea bottlenose dolphin, are protected and globally endangered species. Known for their high intellect and friendly attitude to humans, dolphins reproduce very slowly. The reason for this is the characteristics of cetaceans - they do not breed every year, take long care of their young, pregnancy lasts 12 months, but also human-caused factors,explains Dimitar Popov from Green Balkans:

"Marine mammals in the Black Sea have been heavily exploited. In 1966, a moratorium on industrial fishing of dolphins was introduced in Bulgaria. The reason for the ban was economic – the costs associated with the search for the seanimals in the sea were higher than the revenues from their catching. They were killed mainly because of their fat used in the industry. But with the creation of synthetic substitutes, it becomes more cost-efficient not to use dolphins and whales. According to 2013 dolphin population data for the entire pool, there are between 200,000 and 400,000 individuals. By way of comparison, I would say that in the first half of the 20th century, the total number of specimens caught in industrial dolphin fishing was estimated to be between four and five million. For three years now we have been making expeditions to the territorial waters of the Republic of Bulgaria - about 6,000 square kilometers, and our population estimates for this region range from 3,000 to 10,000 depending on the season. All the sensational reports about a population explosion, most often in the media, are greatly exaggerated and have little to do with reality."

Each of us can help protect the Black Sea, not only by not throwing their garbage on the beach. "There are applications in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act on the minimum fishing sizes for economically significant species. We, as citizens and a consumer force, can exert pressure on traders and fishermen – everyone who offers marine resources – to do so in the most sustainable way possible,”says Dimitar Popov.

English Rossitsa Petcova

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