Ural River Basin Workshop in Orenburg, 2007


Ural River Basin Workshop in Orenburg, Russia, June 2007

Looking for ways to improve the catastrophic decline of Caspian sturgeon populations, a transboundary project to secure sturgeon migration routes along the Ural river and its tributaries was initiated. The Ural is the only remaining river flowing unregulated to the Caspian Sea with numerous meanders and oxbow arms in its largely natural floodplain. It provides important spawning places for sturgeons migrating upstream from the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan into southern Russia. Thanks to the absence of large dams and weirs across the river, the Ural still holds self-sustaining, viable sturgeon populations, capable of natural reproduction.

Viktor Lagutov, at the Central European University in Budapest, and his father Vladimir, at the DonEco research and consulting company in Rostov, with financial support from the Caspian Environment Programme and NATO-ARW, are the driving forces of the Ural Basin Project aiming to rescue sturgeon species by means of transboundary integrated water management in the Ural river basin (www.uralbas.ru).

They organized the first international Ural river basin workshop in Orenburg on 13-16 June 2007, at the time when the delegates to COP14 of the CITES Convention requested Caspian Sea sturgeon range states to participate in FAO's technical cooperation programme, to report export permits to the UNEP caviar-trade database, and to fix ceilings for export quotas on the basis of scientific information.

More than 60 specialists from Russia and Kazakhstan, fisheries and conservation experts from the FAO, the Ramsar Convention, the International Association for Danube Research (IAD), the Regional Environment Centre, Yerevan State University and the Orenburg Agricultural University gathered under the auspices of the Russian Federal Environment Inspection and the Federal Fisheries Agency, the Orenburg Ministry of Natural Resources and the Orenburg Agricultural University in the town on the Ural river linking Europe with Asia.

During the workshop, participants exchanged best practices and international experience in integrated water basin management from the Volga, Danube and south Caucasus transboundary river basins. The undersigned demonstrated how Ramsar's guidelines for integrating wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management (cf. Handbook 7) can provide a useful framework and guidance on how to approach such issues in the transboundary Ural river basin. FAO fisheries experts John Jørgensen and Gerd Marmulla detailed management guidelines for migratory fish stocks in transboundary basins and how to improve fish passages in regulated river streams. Mirjana Lenhardt shared IAD's experiences with sturgeon protection in the lower Danube basin with the Kazakh and Russian audience. This provided Vladimir and Viktor Lagutov with the opportunity to further develop a concept for an international Ural Sturgeon Park as a baseline for the sustainable development of Caspian bioresources. The Park development needs to be based on international and national action plans. And it is crucial that local communities and authorities will take care of sustainable harvesting and the control of poaching.

The Ural Basin Project is a timely illustration for the importance of an integrated ecosystem approach, as advocated by the Ramsar Convention, to link water resources and river basin management with socio-economic factors and the sustainable use of biological resources, as substantiated in the conclusions elaborated after the workshop (English, PDF) (Russian). (The Ural basin stakeholders promised to take this up and meet again soon, further downstream in the Kazakh part of the Ural river basin.

-- text and photos, Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

The capital city of Orenburg Oblast at the shores of the Ural river is proud to provide a physical link, through these bridges, between Europe and Asia.

View of the extensive riverine forests in the floodplain of Sakbara river, a tributary to the Ural. The wooden church remains from a recent set for the film of the famous novel "The Captain's Daughter" by Pushkin.

Ural Basin Workshop participants at a river stretch controlled by the local Cossack community. The latter are very interested to manage a future Sturgeon Park on their lands.

Cossack hospitality at the edge of Ural river sturgeon spawning grounds

Sturgeon for sale in an Orenburg shop

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