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‘Free Fish’ gathered experts at the final meeting in Sofia

Final meeting under the Free Fish Project was held on 20 September in Sofia.
Experts from WWF and the Directorate of Nature Park Rusenski Lom talked about the releasing the rivers from barriers and about the returning of the small fishes in the Danube tributaries.

Tsonka Hristova, director of Rusenski Lom Nature park pointed, that over 80 km of the stream of Lomovete were released from barriers under the project framework. She talked in detail for the removal of two migration barriers along Lomovete, the restoration of a pilot river section along Cherni Lom and the construction of model fish pass on the Rusenski Lom river.  

Stoyan Mihov presented the resettlement of over 1000 specimens of the species European Bullhead (Cottus gobio) and Golden Spined Loach (Sabanejewia balcanica) in Bulgarka Narure Park as well as with the study of the superability of the migration barrier with the fish pass on the Vit River. During the last four years were collected scientific data for six fish species and a mussel species and 506 km river stretches of rivers in 18 Natura 2000 sites pointed the experts of WWF.
 
Ivan Hristov from WWF presented the first guidelines for the construction of effective fish passes with the help of which the water inhabitants can overcome transverse barriers in the rivers. The guidelines gathers the experience of Eliza Uzunova, associate professor from the Faculty of Biology of the Sofia University with that of leading foreign experts such as Prof. DI Dr. Stefan Schmutz, Head of Institute of Hydrobiology and Aquatic Ecosystem Management at BOCU - University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences.

Representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Water, the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’, the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, National Museum of Natural History at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, ‘Balkanka’  Fishing Club and others.
 
	© WWF-България
Заключителна среща "Свободни риби"
© WWF-България

The rare fish species we released in the Bulgarka Nature Park have survived and have adapted

​Significant success is scored by WWF team in August
A survey found that the fishes of the rare species European Bullhead (Cottus gobio) and Golden Spined Loach  (Sabanejewia balcanica), which last year were translocated in the Panicharka River on the territory of Bulgarka Nature Park by WWF experts, have survived and adapted well.

It turned out that the loaches remained near the place where they were released, and apparently feel good there, while the bullheads moved up the stream where the water was faster and the bottom was stonier. All the fish found by WWF experts are adults, in good condition.

These species have disappeared from the river years ago, and today, when the ecological status of the water basin improved, they could not return by themselves because of the barrier - the dam wall of ‘Hristo Smirnenski’.

The Bullhead is a species included in the Red Data Book of Republic of Bulgaria since its creation. This small bottom fish has few survived living populations in Bulgaria. In order to be resettled in the Panicharka River, the bullheads were taken from the Stara Reka, a tributary of the Yantra. The experts estimated that the specimens have exceeded 15 000 there and assessed that they could safely take 250 fishes and move them to a new location.

Over 500 small fishes of the Golden Spined Loach species were also moved by WWF experts from the Vidima River over Sevlievo.

WWF will continue to monitor the new population in Balgarka Nature Park and to monitor its growth rate.
 
	© Wikipedia
Cottus Gobio
© Wikipedia

Migration barrier was removed from the Cherni Lom River near the village of Cherven, Ruse region

​A migratory barrier hampering the passage of fish during low waters was removed from the Cherni Lom River near the village of Cherven, Ruse region.
It was a weir of an old and unused for long-time water-mill that disturbed the life of the river.
This is the second barrier of the kind, removed under the Free Fish project implemented by the Rusenski Lom Nature Park Directorate and the conservation organization WWF Bulgaria.
River fragmentation has serious impact on the populations of their inhabitants as the most fish species need to migrate for food and in search of appropriate breeding places. For this reason WWF Bulgaria identified two weirs in the Rusenski Lom River and its tributary – Cherni Lom to be removed. Under the same project a model fish pass was built near Ivanovo.
In this way, the river section of Rusenski and Cherni Lom, in which Danube fish can migrate, even during low water levels, was significantly extended.
Another activity under the project was the restoration of the bottom substrate of Cherni Lom near Ostritsa village. The project includes also investigation on the impact of the migration barriers in the tributaries of the Danube, preparation of guidelines for fish passes and resettlement of target fish species in the area of Bulgarka Nature Park.
 
	© WWF Bulgaria
Премахване на миграционна бариера край Червен
© WWF Bulgaria

Getting good results from the restoration of part of the Cherni Lom River

​The restoration of a pilot section of the Cherni Lom River has proved successful.
A survey made by WWF showed that the bottom of the river near Ostritsa village was covered with suitable substrate.
Bottom samples taken this summer showed that the restoration activities from the last autumn have led to the expected result.
​Irrigation Systems (Lower Danube Branch) and WWF Bulgaria restored in the autumn of 2016 a pilot section of the Cherni Lom River.
The section is located near the village of Ostritsa, within the Lomovete protected site, part of the European nature conservation network Natura 2000.
The Cherni Lom River is artificially modified, similar to the lower currents of most Bulgarian rivers. The river bed is narrowed and straightened, which modified the river and its bottom. Further modification of the riverbed of all the rivers from the Polomieto, including Cherni Lom, is caused by increased erosion in the watershed. It is a result of deforestation followed by intensive agriculture. Fine clay sediments enter in the river and in many places the original gravel river bed is replaced by a bed of fine clay substrate. This destroyed the habitats of fish such as the Danube gudgeon. Among the few available old data for the distribution of the species in Bulgaria are these for the Cherni Lom at the Ostritsa village.
The initial idea was to restore the bottom substrate of a pilot section through importation of gravel substrate taken from the Danube River. Subsequently the approach was modified and focused on overcoming the causes for the silting up of this river section. It turned out that river gravel lays under the silty-clay alluvium. It was decided to widen the river, take off the silty-clay substrate and to remove the barriers that led to deposition of sediments in the considered section.
The right bank was also lowered. Apart from landscape viewpoint, this is important for animal farming, because this area is used for watering cows and other domestic animals of Ostritsa village. An additional benefit of this activity was the strengthening the left dyke of the river and the increase of the conductivity of the bridge, which increases the flood protection of Ostritsa.
 
	© WWF България
Възстановяване на участък от река Черни Лом.
© WWF България

Marking Danube Day: A model fish pass built in Bulgaria

Ruse, Bulgaria – WWF and partners opened a new model fish pass near Rusenski Lom Nature Park in Bulgaria on the eve of this year's International Danube Day, which is celebrated on 29 June. The facility allows for fish to cross through a barrage, even at low water levels.Two old weirs were removed from the Cherni Lom River near the villages of Koshov and Cherven.
Weirs and other structures on the Danube’s tributaries make it harder or impossible for fish to move up or downstream in search of food and spawning sites.

A study undertaken by WWF found that many Danube species, including white-finned gudgeon, common barbel, common roach, common rudd, white and vimba bream, had been reaching the barrage but were unable to go upstream.

“Since the barrage is in use, it cannot be removed”, Ivan Hristov of WWF-Bulgaria explained. “So together with the Rusenski Lom Nature Park Directorate we built a fish pass through which the species can bypass the barrier.” Following consultations with leading Austrian experts, WWF established the innovative fish pass as a system which is very similar to natural riverbeds.

There are no regulations in Bulgaria regarding how the fish passes should be constructed, and in many places where such facilities exist, they are ineffective. WWF has offered the Bulgarian government assistance, including best practice from Europe, to prepare a strong regulation for constructing effective fish passes, but the relevant authorities have yet to respond. The relevant government working group, composed of representatives of the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture, has not met for months.

WWF is researching how the barriers on the Danube tributaries are affecting the river life. In recent years, WWF experts have conducted field research on numerous Danube tributaries in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. There were also translocations of typical species of fish, such as the European Bullhead (Cottus gobio), listed in the Red Data Book, and the Golden Spined Loach (Sabanejewia balcanica).  Hundreds of specimens have been reintroduced to Bulgarka Nature Park in Bulgaria.

WWF’s efforts to restore river connectivity are part of the LIFE Free Fish project, which is co-financed by the EU LIFE Programme as well as The Coca-Cola Foundation as part of a broader partnership to conserve and restore Danube wetlands.

WWF together with The Coca-Cola Company and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) aims to restore vital wetlands and floodplains along the Danube River in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria by 2020. The Living Danube Partnership will directly contribute to one-third of the objectives of Danube countries to restore 151.3 km² of floodplain and wetland areas by 2021.
 
	© WWF Bulgaria
Fish pass, near Basarbovo, NE Bulgaria
© WWF Bulgaria

Removed migration barrier in Rusenski Lom Nature Park

A migratory barrier near the village of Koshov on the Cherni Lom River was removed in May as part of the Free Fish Project, implemented by WWF and the Directorate of Rusenski Lom Nature Park.
This is the first of two barriers specified for removing, the second one is located near the village of Cherven and its removal is forthcoming.

The removed barrier was a concrete-stone threshold which deviated the water to an old abandoned mill. The mill has not been used for more than half a century, but a facility, although partially destroyed, has remained and continued to hamper the fish migration.

After the removal of this threshold, the water is returned to the main stream and even at low water will not pose a barrier for fish migration.
 
	© WWF България
Премахване на миграционна бариера на река Черни Лом.
© WWF България

Children painted inhabitants of the Danube tributaries

More than 800 children took part in the competition "River and its inhabitants" of Britanica language school and WWF.
The third and fourth group kids in the kindergarten and the first and second grades had the task of drawing inhabitants of the Danube and its tributaries. Among the species that could be depicted by the small artists were the bitterling and the thick shelled river mussel, which are targeted by the Life Free Fish project.
 
The winners in both categories are: 3-4 group - Clara Raicheva (1st place), Kalina Moneva (2nd place) and Rumyana Petrova (3rd place).
1-2 grade - Aliki Kovachevich (1st place), Andzhela Sotirova (2nd place), Ekaterina Kileva (3rd place).

The winning drawings and information about the competition can be found here
 
	© WWF България
The bitterling by Ekaterina Kileva
© WWF България

​Pilot section of Cherni Lom River restored with the participation WWF

​‘Irrigation Systems’ (Lower Danube branch) and WWF Bulgaria restored a pilot section of Cherni Lom River.
The section is located near the village Ostritsa within Lomovete site, part of the European ecological network Natura 2000.
 
Cherni Lom River is regulated like the lower sections of most Bulgarian rivers. The river bed is narrowed and straightened, which modified the river and its bottom. Further modification of the riverbed of all the rivers from the Polomieto, including Cherni Lom, caused by increased erosion in the watershed. It is a result of deforestation followed by intensive agriculture. Fine clay sediments enter in the river and in many places the original gravel river bed is replaced by a bed of fine clay substrate. This destroyed the habitats of fish such as the Danube gudgeon. Among the few available old data for the distribution of the species in Bulgaria are these for the Cherni Lom at the Ostritsa village.
  
The initial idea was to restore the bottom substrate of a pilot section through importation of gravel substrate taken from the Danube River. Subsequently the approach was modified and focused on overcoming the causes for the silting up of this river section. It turned out that river gravel lays under the silty-clay alluvium. It was decided to widen the river, take off the silty-clay substrate and to remove the barriers that led to deposition of sediments in the considered section.
 
The right bank was also lowered. Apart from landscape viewpoint, this is important for animal farming, because this area is used for watering cows and other domestic animals of Ostritsa village. An additional benefit of this activity was the strengthening the left dyke of the river and the increase of the conductivity of the bridge, which increases the flood protection of Ostritsa.
 
 
	© WWF България
Restoration of a pilot section of Cherni Lom River
© WWF България

​Bulgarian experts got acquainted with the Austrian experience in the construction of fish passes

April, the 30th, 2016
Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Foods, Danube Region Basin Directorate, Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’ and the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy visited Austria to get acquainted with the local experience in the construction of fish passes.

The visit was organized by WWF Bulgaria under the Free Fish project. The experts made a series of field visits of fish pass projects in Austria and met Prof. DI Dr. Stefan Schmutz, Head of Institute of Hydrobiology and Aquatic Ecosystem Management at BOKU - University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna.

The visit is very timely with a view to the fact that currently interdepartmental working group meets in Bulgaria to elaborate an ordinance for the fish passes, said Ivan Hristov, head of the freshwater programme of WWF. Hristov added that at present WWF Bulgaria prepares guidelines with recommendations how the effective fish passes should look like and the Austrian experience is very precious in this regard. 
 
	© WWF България
Work visit to Austria
© WWF България

Translocation of the two species in Central Bulgaria

Video in Bulgarian language

Hundreds of specimens of two rare species returned to Bulgarka Nature Park thanks to WWF

Hundreds of specimens of the species European bullhead (Cottus gobio) and Golden spined loach (Sabanejewia balcanica) were translocated in the river Panicharka in Bulgarka Nature Park by experts from WWF.
These species have become extinct from the river years ago, and today, when the ecological status of the water basin has improved, could not return alone because of the barrier - the wall of Hristo Smirnenski dam.

The bullhead is a species listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria. This small bottom fish has very few preserved viable populations in Bulgaria. One of the most unusual is the one in the watershed of Yantra, as its altitude is not typical for this species.

WWF experts found that this population from the area of Stara reka has over 15 000 specimens and considered that it was appropriate to resettle about 200-250 specimens, said Stoyan Mihov, Conservation Manager of WWF Bulgaria. This wouldn’t threaten the initial population for sure and will give chance to the species to disperse. Translocation is carried out twice – in September and in October with about 100 specimens.

More than 500 fish from the Golden spined loach species were also resettled by WWF experts. They were caught in the Vidima River above Sevlievo and their new home is also Panicharka River above Gabrovo.

Stoyan Mihov explained that the original idea was to also reintroduce two species of Gudgeons but the populations studies have shown that the potential  source populations were with low numbers of individuals and such an operation would pose a risk on them.
WWF will continue to monitor the new population in Bulgarka Nature Park and its growth rate.
 
	© WWF България
These species have become extinct from the river years ago.
© WWF България

The project was presented in Ruse in the international Danube Day

The event was hosted by the Eco-museum with aquarium
30 June 2016
The Life Free Fish project was presented in the eco-museum with aquarium within an event organized by WWF Bulgaria on the occasion of the international Danube Day (29 June).
WWF representatives told visitors about the project activities and the expected results and acquainted them with the inhabitants of the Danube tributaries we work for.
The WWF team had prepared educational quizzes and games for children and a quiz for adults. Those who dealt successfully received gifts as brochures – fans produced under the project.
A few days earlier a similar event was organized in the Muzeiko Children's Science Center in Sofia. Related to the events a number of national and regional media were interested in the activities of WWF Bulgaria, including the Life Free Fish project.
 
	© Milena Ivanova/WWF
International Danube Day in the eco-museum with aquarium in Ruse
© Milena Ivanova/WWF

The Free Fish project was presented within the global initiative

16 May 2016
The Free Fish project was presented within the World Fish Migration Day, 21 May. More than 1500 organizations joined the initiative around the world and took part in more than 400 events in different countries, said the World Fish Migration Foundation, based in Washington.
WWF Bulgaria presented its work on the Danube tributaries during a swimming Charity Challenge, which took place on 14 May in "Banya Madara" swimming pool in Sofia.
Migratory fish such as catfish, sturgeon, eel and salmon support the diets and livelihoods of millions of people worldwide. However, these fish face a number of threats. Physical barriers—including dams, weirs and sluices—are one of the most widespread challenges for these species. In addition to blocking migratory paths, these man-made structures disrupt the natural flow of rivers, which is critical fish spawning. Migratory species depend on open rivers and natural pulses of water to reproduce, feed and complete their life cycles.
Zeb Hogan, biologist of the University of Nevada and host of National Geographic Wild, Monster Fish. “Over 70% of Europe’s Anadromous fish (migrate from the ocean to freshwater) are endangered, 95% of the world’s migratory sawfish are gone, migratory eel populations are in decline, and more recently the migratory fish of major tropical rivers like the Amazon, Congo, and Mekong are under great threat from hydropower development. To put that threat in context, an estimated 40-70% of food fish in the Mekong are migratory and over 60 million people depend on the Mekong River for their livelihoods and food security. We want people to realize what’s at stake, understand what we’ve lost, and work together to protect and restore populations of these amazing and life sustaining fish”.
 
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International: “Fish migration is one of nature’s wonders. Yet it happens below the surface. Long distant migrants like eels, sturgeons and salmons need both healthy rivers and seas but populations of migratory fish species are declining fast. Free-flowing rivers are key to their survival and under growing pressure as the world continues to develop hydropower and other infrastructures. It is more important than ever to conserve migratory fish on which ecosystems but also jobs and economies depend.
Studies in recent years have shown that all river fish species migrate, said Ivan Hristov, head of the Freshwater programme in WWF Bulgaria. Some species undertake annual migrations many others cover short distances, but for all of them the unhindered movement along the rivers is vital. WWF works for the creation of functioning fish passes on existing barriers and also to prevent the construction of new barriers in the areas most sensitive for the living nature, said Hristov
26 participants joined the swimming challenge and swam a total of over 21 km in 30 minutes and collected 1213 levs. Photos from the event can be found here. The initiative was accompanied by extensive communication in which the project was presented.
 
	© @Ivelina Georgieva/WWF
Swimming Charity Challenge
© @Ivelina Georgieva/WWF

​Conservation of rivers and their inhabitants for school students

22 February

The head of the WWF Freshwater programme, Ivan Hristov, gave an open lesson in Meridian 22 school in Sofia. Hristov spoke about the work of WWF Bulgaria for the conservation of Danube tributaries as well as of the Danube River in front of about 70 students from 5th to 7th grade.

The kids learned what are the barriers impeding fish migration, what are the fish passages like and why it is necessary to ensure the free flow of rivers.


Hristov presented the target species of the Free Fish project and the emblematic, but unfortunately critically endangered inhabitants of the Danube – the sturgeons.

Hristov brought 5-meter inflatable model of sturgeon and asked 40 students to stand together to demonstrate the weight of the largest ever captured beluga.
 
 
	© Борислава Маргаритова/WWF
Ръководителят на програма "Води" във WWF България Иван Христов представи работата на организацията за опазването на реките.
© Борислава Маргаритова/WWF

​WWF tagged 5000 fishes to study the impact of river barriers

12 April, 2016
Experts from WWF captured and tagged 5000 fishes in April in order to learn more about the impact of the barriers on the Bulgarian tributaries of the Danube.
The marking was done at a dam on the river Vit in Lovech region. The location was chosen among 16 others identified last year as being suitable for the study of the cross barriers.
Among the volunteers who took part in the marking was the captain of the national volleyball team Vladimir Nikolov, who came in person to get acquainted with the activities of the WWF. Nikolov readily put fishing waders and waded into the river with two buckets in which collected fishes captured by the experts. He even wanted a picture with one of the largest chubs caught in the studies which lasted three days.
We caught 11777 fishes of 20 species. The most common species are the Mediterranean barbel, the chub, the spirlin and the gudgeon. Mediterranean barbel, chub and nase were from the species, subject of the study for the migration. Among the captured fishes are representatives of species which are subject to resettlement under other activities of the project – the Kessler's gudgeon, the golden spined loach, the bitterling, as well as the Balkan loach, said Borislava Margaritova, expert ichthyologist in WWF Bulgaria.
We tagged with colored markers 4929 specimens longer than 70 mm from 7 species. The difference of 6848 fish which aren’t marked, are specimens with total length less than 70 mm and small bottom not migrating species as the loaches, said Margaritova.
Among the captured were 12 specimens tagged by our experts in summer last year. Then under the same project about 2500 fishes were tagged. The recapture gives us information about the status of the populations in the researched section.
The study to assess the impact of migration barriers on the target species of ‘Conservation and restoration of Natura 2000 rheophilic fish species and their migratory routes in key SCIs in Bulgaria’, LIFE12 NAT/BG/001011 project will continue in the coming weeks and months, the team will perform recapture, this time in the section over the dam to track what percentage of the fishes managed to pass through the fish pass at the migration barrier. The results of the survey will help WWF to assess to what extent the migration of small fish is hampered by barriers built on tributaries of the Danube, to what extent the existing fish passes are suitable for these species. The aim is to identify measures to improve the vulnerable populations by removing the barriers or by improving their passability.
 
	© Тихомира Методиева-Тихич
Among the volunteers who took part in the marking was the captain of the national volleyball team Vladimir Nikolov
© Тихомира Методиева-Тихич

Working group prepares an ordinance for fish passages

An interdepartmental working group, which aims to prepare an ordinance for fish passages, started working in Sofia.
December 3, 2015
The group was formed by decision of the Ministers of Agriculture and Food, Desislava Taneva, and of Environment and Water, Ivelina Vasileva, and includes representatives of the two ministries, the river basin directorates and NGOs. WWF has two representatives - Stoyan Mihov, Conservation Manager of the organization and Ivan Hristov, head of the Freshwater programme.
The elaboration of such an ordinance is set in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Act but has been delayed for years, says Ivan Hristov. He pointed out that the first meeting of the group was intended for posing the question and for hearing the expectations of the concerned institutions.
Within the framework of the LIFE + Free Fish project, WWF Bulgaria is working on the development of guidelines on working fish passages. The organisation examines successful models implemented abroad and uses the experience of a foreign consultant. The information gathered in the preparation of the guidelines can be used in the process of creating an ordinance and the goal is working and effective fish passages to reduce the harmful effect of the barriers in rivers, said Hristov.
According to the ministerial order, the working group has to prepare an initial draft of the ordinance until the end of April 2016, which is then subject of agreement with the relevant departments of the two ministries.
 
	© Dimitar Kumanov
Fish passage at Tarmushka river
© Dimitar Kumanov

​The new river basin management plans have been published

The documents should provide for adequate measures for the barriers in the rivers
January 7, 2016

The River Basin Directorates have published the drafts of river basin management plans on their websites.

 Citizens and organizations can express their positions by the end June 2016 during the public consultations.

 Pollution, construction of artificial barriers, drainage, reckless gravel extraction are just some of the most pressing problems for which good management plans are crucial.

Releasing rivers from barriers which stop fish migration and are among the main causes of 

habitat loss are a high priority for WWF Bulgaria and the LIFE + Free Fish project.

The organisation studies and evaluates at least ten existing barriers in rivers which are 

obstacles for the natural fish migration. Subject of these studies are obstacles in water basins in three Natura 2000 sites. Based on the results of the studies, WWF will prepare a proposal for actions on river barriers to make them passable for fish and guidelines with requirements for construction of fish passages. All the information collected will be published and will be available to all stakeholders working to improve the condition of the Bulgarian rivers.

We expect the new plans to preserve what has already been achieved, says Ivan Hristov from the Freshwater programme of WWF. The current plans introduced many restrictions, norms and prohibitions, but we think that the new plans have to make the next step - reducing the harmful effects of already existing cases. Functioning fish passages should be built and we are now working to create a model fish passage.

WWF Bulgaria will observe the preparation of the new rivers management plans and will insist on adequate measures to protect this public resource.
 
	© WWF/Елица Грънчарова
Struma river, SW Bulgaria
© WWF/Елица Грънчарова

WWF Bulgaria Experts discovered preserved population of the critically endangered fish European bullhead

The European bullhead (Cottus gobio) is an interesting fish, but since its coloration is just like the river bed it is difficult to discern, even in places where it still occurs. It inhabits the upper courses of rivers.
Unfortunately it disappeared from many places in Bulgaria, where it lived in the past and is registered in the "Red Data Book" as a critically endangered species. That’s why WWF works to restore its population in Bulgarka Nature Park, part of the European ecological network Natura 2000.

Great news from recent days is that experts from the conservation organization managed to find a place with a stable population of the species to serve as a "donor". In other words, a number of fish will be taken from this place to be moved to tributaries of the Yantra River in Bulgarka, where the species became extinct in the recent past due to the construction of a dam, pollution and catchment of rivers.

"For such resettlement it is very important that the fish are from the same catchment - to do restocking in Bulgarka we need a "donor" population from the Yantra River basin and not from the basin of the Iskar River for example, where the species could have different genetic characteristics”, said Stoyan Mihov, Conservation Manager of WWF Bulgaria.

Therefore we are happy that we managed to find a population with a good population density in a 15-kilometer section along the tributaries of the Yantra River, Stara reka and Karadere, said Mihov. According to him, this will allow relocation of a small number of fish and will not affect negatively the donor population. The precise locations in Bulgarka where the fish will be released are examined at present to ascertain compliance with the requirements of the species. Unfortunately, one of the potential rivers for resettlement of the European bullhead - Kozya Reka, is eliminated as a possibility, because of the decision for building the short version of the tunnel under Shipka, which if not reviewed would lead to the entry of the road in the park and to the destruction of these and other habitats. Major threat to these small fish are water pollution, declining water levels and the construction of dams which is an obstacle for both the fish migration and the return to the places from which it disappeared due to pollution in the past.
 
 
	© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
Главоч (Cottus Gobio)
© WWF/Stoyan Mihov

The Free Fish project was presented at the First National Conference on Reintroduction

WWF's work on the restoration of rheophilic fish in Bulgarian tributaries of the Danube was presented at the First National Conference on Reintroduction of Conservation Reliant Species.
The event was held in the second half of November in the Faculty of Biology of the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". The opening was attended by the Vice-rector of the University Prof. Roumen Pankov, the Dean of the Biological Faculty Prof. Mariela Odzhakova, Valeri Georgiev from the Ministry of Environment and Water and others.

In his welcoming address the Dean of the Biological Faculty said that this conference is the first of its kind in Bulgaria and the region and is dedicated to an extremely pressing theme related to the rare threatened plant and animal species and the efforts for their return.

"Currently, we are witnessing the most rapid extinction of species in human history. In Bulgaria they exceed 30 species. The effects of these losses are unpredictable, because despite the high level of scientific knowledge, we are far from understanding all the relationships between organisms and correspondingly from the prognosis of the impact of their extinction or reformatting. One thing is certain - once extinct a species is lost for nature, for us and for our children", said prof. Odzhakova.

The "Free Fish" project foresees reintroduction of bitterling (Rhodeus amarus), thick shelled river mussel (Unio crassus), Balkan loach (Cobitis elongata) in Lomovete protected site and European bullhead (Cottus gobio) and golden spined loach (Sabanejewia balcanica) in Bulgarka protected site.
 
	© WWF/Ivan Radev
A poster dedicated to restoration of rheophilic fish in Bulgarian tributaries of the Danube.
© WWF/Ivan Radev

The LIFE‘Free Fish project hosted the annual LIFE project meeting in Bulgaria

The meeting was held on 7th and 8th October in the village of Koshov, ‘Rusenski Lom’ Nature Park, Lomovete protected site.
Participants were Mr Simon Goss, technical desk officer and Mrs Brunhilde Rack, financial desk officer for Bulgarian projects from the LIFE Unit; representatives of ten running and three new LIFE projects, implemented by nongovernmental organizations, the Executive Forestry Agency, the Ministry of Environment and Water and EVN Bulgaria. New projects were presented and technical and financial questions were discussed at the meeting.

 The agenda included a field trip under the LIFE Free Fish Project, LIFE12 NAT/BG/001011, implemented by WWF Bulgaria in partnership with ‘Rusenski Lom’ Nature Park. The participants visited one of the project locations - near an old mill under the village of Cherven, where the project envisages the removal of a fish migration barrier.
 
	© WWF
The meeting was held in the village of Koshov, ‘Rusenski Lom’ Nature Park, Lomovete, North-Eastern Bulgaria.
© WWF

​Do fish pass through the fish passage on Vit River at the village of Toros?

Looking for an answer to the question to what extent the fish passage on the Vit River at the village of Toros is appropriate experts from WWF carried out resampling two months and a half after 2500 fish caught under the dam were marked.
2905 fish were caught above the dam in late July with the same method used previously under the dam (see below in the ‘News’ section). The predominant species are Mediterranean barbel, chub, spirlin and gudgeon. Fish fauna is almost identical to that under the dam.

Control catch was carried out under the dam to check for the presence of marked specimens and to check the durability of the tags. The sampling took place at the same place on the same methodology and with the same effort as in the first marking.

The results were surprisingly similar to those obtained during the marking. The numbers of barbel, chub and gudgeon are very close to them, even as absolute values.

Counting of marked specimens two months and a half after marking gave comparable results with the studies during the tagging, which proves that the data can be used to calculate the population in the river section, said Stoyan Mihov, Conservation Manager of WWF Bulgaria.

Tagged fish were not found above the dam. Still it cannot be confirmed undoubtedly that the dam is an insurmountable barrier for fish, given the low number of the tagged specimens recaptured under the dam (on average less than 0.7%). For this reason, in the early spring of 2016 WWF experts will conduct another, larger-scale marking in the same place – at the village of Toros, the goal is to mark at least 3% of the individuals.
 
	© WWF
The fish passage on Vit River
© WWF

Bulgaria must take urgent control measures on small hydropower to avoid EU sanctions

The European Commission (EC) is aware of the problem
Bulgarian authorities need to take urgent measures to effectively control small hydroelectric power plants. This is what representatives of environmental organizations, angler clubs and water sports enthusiasts announced at a press conference Tuesday. The European Commission (EC) is aware of the problem through two appeals made by NGOs and is likely to open an infringement procedure against the country.
 
Environmentalists say the failure to comply with river management plans not only destroys life in rivers and around them, but is also among the causes of flooding. An example given by engineer Dimitar Kumanov from “Balkanka” Fishing Club was the hydropower station near the village of Hajredin in Northwest Bulgaria. It caused the flooding of dozens of houses in spring 2014. Ironically, the project for building the station, which also foresees the construction of several others in the area, is called "Measures to reduce floodrisk."
 
The lack of adequate hydropower control violates three EU directives – the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive, said Senior Freshwater Officer Lyubomir Kostadinov from WWF Bulgaria. A month ago, the European Commission also opened an infringement procedure against Romania following a complaint by the local WWF office.
 
Kostadinov pointed out that the goal of NGOs was neither to block investments nor impose a fine on Bulgaria, but to encourage the government to take responsibility for the problems and solve them. Otherwise, fines could reach several tens of thousands of Euros a day, but the bigger risk is that the EC might suspend EU funds for Bulgaria because of the violations.
 
The head of WWF Bulgaria’s Freshwater programme Ivan Hristov explained that, contrary to the popular belief that "hydropower doesn’t drink water," these types of plants have a serious, negative impact on the environment. Usually the section between the water intake and the place where water is returned to the river is dry and life there disappears. Moreover, hydropower is a barrier that prevents the migration of all aquatic organisms up- and downstream. Even the best fish passage has an efficiency of only 50%, which means that only half the fish can pass it, said Hristov.
 
Engineer Kumanov showed examples of highly inefficient fish passages that even climbers could not surmount, let alone fish. The examples are collected at the platform dams.reki.bg that aims to illustrate the actual environmental impacts of existing hydroelectric plants.
 
The number of small hydropower stations in the network of protected areas Natura 2000 in Bulgaria is 220. The purpose of Natura 2000 is to protect endangered species, but in rivers with hydropower, there are no otters, crabs and fish, said Andrey Kovachev from „Balkani” Wildlife Society. In his words, three very simple measures can prevent this:  
 
1) Not allowing new construction until the problems are solved;
2) Equipping each station with an automatic device that measures the amount of water extraction, whose placement should be paid by the owner, not by taxpayers;
3) Building suitable fish passages everywhere.
 
During field inspections in Southwest Bulgaria in 2013 and 2014, experts found none of the visited small hydropower plants compliant with the measures envisaged by the law and even with those stipulated in their own permits, Kovachev said. However, when environmentalists signaled the Basins Directorate responsible for hydropower control and the institution initiated its own checks, the Directorate managed to identify violations in only two stations because the others had been promptly alerted. The two plants paid fines, but continued to operate as before.
 
Kostadinov said that the fine of €1,000 is unacceptable, having in mind that the hydropower stations destroyed life along a 30-km river stretch. It is a paltry sum compared to the profits of the owners.
 
Dimitar Manev from the Bulgarian Kayak Society said that those who notice the outrages occurring in rivers are water sport lovers. Offenders often rely on the fact that their stations operate high up in the mountains and no one will notice their illegal activities. The disruption of rivers with hydropower has a negative impact not only on nature, but also on tourism, he said. Foreign kayakers are interested in Bulgarian rivers, but many places along the rivers have unfortunately been turned into ugly concrete channels.
 
In addition to the existing 220 hydropower plants, twice as many more could be built in the near future because the permits for them have already been issued, Kumanov said. However, it is considered that 80% of the energy potential of Bulgarian rivers has already being exhausted.  Moreover, the new projects have mostly been planned in lower river reaches where floodrisk is much higher, Hristov said
 
	© Dimitar Kumanov
Dysfunctional fish passage on Davidkovska River in the Rhodope Mountains
© Dimitar Kumanov

Future managers were introduced to the problems caused to life in rivers by hydropower plants and barrages

WWF organized practical training for students from the Faculty of Biology
Students from the Faculty of Biology of Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’ got acquainted with the problems caused to life in rivers by small hydropower plants and barrages, which are an impassable barrier for fish migration. WWF organized field practical training for representatives of the ‘Biomanagement and sustainable development’ speciality, which aims at training future managers.

As part of our efforts to develop a River Watchers Network of volunteers, we visited Rumyantsevo sHPP on Zlatna Panega River. The river bed between the water intake facility and the turbines is almost dry. A fish passage is built, however only the smallest fish can pass there as it is very shallow, non-observing the compliance with the minimum water quantity for the river. The other sHPP which has been visited is Sirocco on Cherni Vit river, whose fish passage proved to be absolutely dry. The visit was at a time of normal level of the river for the season. It was found that the discharged water is no more than 5 l/sec, when the requirement is for 165 l/sec. The river downstream has disappeared. The fish passage has too high falls and no upper openings of the barriers. Photos of the hydropower plant in question can be found on the platform designated for observing the rules for the hydropower plants.

We visited Boaza barrage, located at the confluence of Vit River and Kalnik River and the barrage on Vit River at the village of Toros, which has a fish pass, whose efficiency is being studied under the WWF’s ‘LIFE Free Fish’ project.

The exercise was conducted by Lyubomir Kenderov, PhD from the Faculty of Biology, Ivan Hristov, head of the freshwater programme of WWF and Dimitar Kumanov from Balkanka Society.

The students convinced themselves with their own eyes that both HPPs and at least one of the two studied barrages have detrimental effect on the migration of living organisms in the river and obviously the legal requirements to provide the passability of the hydro-technical facilities are not met.

Based on data collected during the visit, Dimitar Koumanov from Balkanka Society sent a signal to the Basin Directorate ‘Danube Region’ and to the Ministry of Environment and Water for the irregularities noted at Rumyantsevo sHPP.

According to Koumanov the quantity of water discharged in sHPP Rumyantsevo is not more than 2 l/sec and the minimum quantity of water must be 380 l/sec, although there are no official data on this HPP. The fish pass is inappropriate - too shallow concrete channels silted up with algae in the silt, otherwise it is well located. The worse is that no fish can reach the passage because there is no water in the river. This is at least the fifth signal for a serious violation of Rumyantsevo HPP over the years since it was put into operation. And this happens in a protected Natura 2000 site under the Directive on the conservation of habitats and species. Data for Rumyantsevo sHPP can be found here.

WWF tagged 2500 fishes to assess the impact of barriers in the rivers

WWF Experts captured and marked nearly 2 500 fish to find out more about the impact of the barriers on Bulgarian tributaries of the Danube.
WWF Experts captured and marked nearly 2 500 fish to find out more about the impact of the barriers on Bulgarian tributaries of the Danube.
The marking was carried out at a dam in the Vit River in Lovech District. The location was chosen among 16 others identified as appropriate to study cross barriers in March this year.
We caught a total of 3842 fish from 17 species. The most common species are Mediterranean barbel, chub, spirlin and gudgeon. The main target of the migration studies is the Mediterranean barbel, but other migrating species will be studies as well like barbel and nase.
Among the caught fish are representatives of species which will be subject to resettlement under other project activities - the Kessler's gudgeon, the golden spined loach and the bitterling as well as the Balkan loach which is part of the additional species, said Stoyan Mihov, Conservation Manager of WWF Bulgaria.
We tagged 2493 fish specimens with length more than 70 mm from 7 species with colored markers. The greatest part of the marked specimens are of the species Mediterranean barbel - over 68% of all (1703 specimens), followed by the chub - about 19%, the gudgeon - about 7% and the spirlin with less than 5%, the rest are single specimens of different species.
The difference of 989 fish which are not marked, are the specimens of all species with total length less than 70 mm and small not migrating bottom-living species like the loaches, said Mihov.
The study to assess the impact of migration barriers on the target species under the project ‘Conservation and restoration of Natura 2000 rheophilic fish species and their migratory routes in key SCIs in Bulgaria’ LIFE12 NAT/BG/001011 will continue in late July. The team will carry out recapture, this time in the area over the dam to track what percentage of the fish manage to pass through the fish passage at the migration barrier. The results of the study will help WWF to find out to what extent the migration of small fishes is hampered by barriers built on tributaries of the Danube, to what extent the existing fish passages are suitable for these species. The aim is to identify measures to improve the vulnerable populations by removing the barriers or making them more permeable to fish. 
 
	© WWF/Стоян Михов

​Educational tour about the rivers presented rare small fishes from the Danube tributaries

WWF presented “the big problems of the small fishes” in seven Bulgarian cities.
WWF’s educational tour, titled the Small Fishes Day, visited seven Bulgarian cities from 12 to 21 May. Travelling exhibition, quiz, games and three aquariums with small fishes passed through Sofia, Lom, Pleven, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Tryavna and Gabrovo. The motto of the tour was “Let’s free rivers from barriers, stop their destruction in order to secure life for their inhabitants”.

The objective of the tour  was to give information to the local people in the cities, situated adjacent to the target protected sites, about the rivers, the rare fish species and the restoration of their migration routes.  For most visitors it was the first meeting with specimens of the species bitterling, Mediterranean barbel, Balkan and golden spined loach previously caught in Vit River. All of them are protected within the European ecological network Natura 2000 and are decreasing in number. Experts and volunteers from WWF talked about the small fishes, their problems and about the project activities that will help to protect these species. A branded truck and an exhibition of photos from the beautiful Danube showed animals and plants found in and along the second largest river in Europe.

The last stop of the tour was in Gabrovo. Right after its end, we transferred the fish to the Vit River, where we released them safe and sound in the same pool where they were caught.  

Besides meeting people who want to volunteer for environmental activities, fishing clubs members with whom we work together for river conservation, we believe that we’ve made many people aware of the small fishes and rivers conservation needs. For us it is important that this educational part of the project happens at local level because the direct conservation activities are being implemented right there.

​Points to study the impact of migration barriers are selected

Experts from the Free Fish Project selected places with three types of barriers along the Ogosta, Yantra and Vit Rivers.
In 25 - 27 March 2015 experts from the Free Fish project carried out a field study, which aimed to select the places where assessment on the impact of migration barriers by tagging and tracking the movement of the fish. It was necessary to select three types of migration barriers: small hydropower plant with fish passage, barrage with fish passes and barrage without fish passage.

16 transverse hydrotechnical facilities along the rivers Ogosta, Iskar, Vit and Yantra were inspected within the study.

As a result, three facilities for carrying out the studies under the project were selected: on the Ogosta River (small hydropower plant with a fish pass), a dam on the Vit River (barrage with a fish pass) and a dam on Yantra River (barrage without a fish pass).

Next steps under the project are tagging fish and tracking their movement over the migration barriers.
 
	© Nina Dyakova/WWF
Vit River, Northern Bulgaria
© Nina Dyakova/WWF

The Mediterranean Barbel: WWF will restore its habitat

The reinforced riverbed of Rusenski Lom River will again be suitable habitat for the species, also known as the Balkan barbel.

February 10, 2015

The Mediterranean Barbel (Barbus meridionalis) is one of the species whose habitats will be restored within WWF’s project LIFE + Free fish. It inhabits the middle reaches of some European rivers – in the west of France, in the eastern Balkan Peninsula, and in eastern Poland. In Bulgaria, the barbel inhabits the upper and middle reaches of Danube River basin rivers. These are the rivers Vidbol, Archar, Lom, Ogosta, Iskar, Vit, Osam, Yantra and Rusenski Lom and some of their larger tributaries at altitude up to about 800 metres above sea level, as well as Kamchia River in the Black Sea basin.

WWF Bulgaria plans to restore at least 200 metres of the Rusenski Lom River bed by using suitable coarse stone riverbed substrate. This flooring ensures favourable habitats for the Mediterranean barbel and the Kessler's Gudgeon (Gobio keslleri), which also inhabits this river.

Another project activity includes assessment of the existing impact of barriers on migratory species. The primary focus will be on the needs of the barbel, but the impact on other species in the protected areas included in the project will also be studied. For the first time, WWF’s experts will remove at least two migration barriers. This will ensure not only the barbel’s transition, but also the passage of other species that prefer Rusenski Lom River.

Almost all Rusenski Lom River fish species disappeared completely in the period 1980 - 1990. However, in recent years water quality has improved significantly. This resulted in the quick recovery of populations of sensitive fish species, including the barbel.

The Mediterranean Barbel, which is also called Balkan barbel, is part of the Barbus genus of the Cyprinus carpio family. It is one of the most delicious fish and is also highly valued  for  its appearance, which is also why there are stories about it in Bulgarian folklore. The fish is relatively small, with two barbels on each side of the head. It has dark-red and sometimes has yellowish-orange fins. Its body colour depends on the environment and the breeding season; it varies from light to dark brown, with a golden hue. The barbel’s length reaches 35 cm and its weight - up to 0.4 kg.

The Barbel gathers in groups of differently-sized specimens. It inhabits rivers bottoms and usually goes along the mainstream, in the swift currents in not very deep pools, hiding in holes around underwater obstructions, fallen trees and niches in the steep banks. The species prefers gravel and rocky bottoms and  looks for its food mainly there. In winter, it does not eat and gathers in schools. It spends the winter in suitable sheltered areas and leaves them in spring.

The Barbel reproduces from May to June. Individuals often jump out of the water surface. It spawns in deep sections of the river with fast currents. On its way, the spawn is constantly supplied with oxygen. The Barbel reproduces in a water temperature of 15 degrees, and the larvae hatch in about two weeks.
 
	© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
Mediterranean Barbel
© WWF/Stoyan Mihov

CONSERVATION STATUS

The Mediterranean Barbel is listed in the Habitats Directive of the EU, which means that it is a species that must be protected within the European environmental network Natura 2000. Accordingly, it is also included in the Biodiversity Act. The species is also protected under the Bern Convention.

PROBLEM THAT WE ADDRESS

Some of the populations are still in good condition but most of them are fragmented because of the constructed hydro power plants. However, the Mediterranean Barbel has very good abilities to reproduce itself naturally because it is very agile fish but its distribution is limited due to the partitioning of the rivers.

Specialists restored extinct fish species in Vitosha Nature Park

December 9, 2014

In 2013 and 2014 Vitosha Nature Park Directorate, together with the National Museum of Natural History and the Faculty of Biology of Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski carried out campaign for the restoration of some of the species that inhabited the mountain rivers before the rivers have been blocked by various barrages and dams, and contaminated or fully destroyed by human activity.

Under the Life + Free Fish Project, WWF plans to restore two of these species - European bullhead (Cottus gobio) and golden spined loach (Sabanejewia balcanica) in two Natura 2000 sites - Lomovete and Bulgarka. This is the reason why our colleagues’ projects concerning these species interest us and we present them here, on the project’s website.

The other fish species, which we will reintroduce under the Life + Free Fish project, have not yet been restored in Bulgaria. These include the bitterling (Rhodeus amarus), Kessler's gudgeon (Gobio kessleri) and Danube gudgeon (Gobio uranoscopus). Only the Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis) was reintroduced during the period 2012 to 2014 in Bulgarka Nature Park.

The golden spined loach used to live in the upper reaches of the rivers Struma and Kladnitsa in the area of Vitosha Nature Park. It occurred there until 1951 when Studena dam was built. The obvious reason for the species’ extinction was the dam construction, says the expert Tihomir Stefanov.

In 2014, Balkanka fishing club and Stefanov carried out restoration of golden spined loach in the upper reaches of Struma and Kladnitsa rivers. The success of the restocking will be investigated after one year.

The only restoration of European bullhead until now was made in the area of Vitosha Nature Park in 2013 and 2014. In the past, the species occurred in the Palakariya River in the park. The expansion of the urban system at the foot of the mountain, the pollution and the barrage built above the village of Yarlovo were the main reasons for the extinction of the species.

In the initial stage of the restoration the specialists carried out a study on the numbers and biomass of the populations in the Iskar River, and selected donor population. They checked also the water parameters - temperature, oxygen and pH, as well as characterized the habitat – the bottom substrate, the water speed and depth. The investigation included a detailed study on macrozoobenthos, which is the possible food source of the bullhead. On the next stage the specialists investigated the Palakariya River in order to choose specific areas with the most appropriate conditions for the species’ restoration. Then the experts created experimental installation for artificial breeding and growing of bullhead. They propagated the species. When they grew up, the specialists tagged the specimens and reintroduced them into the Palakaria River.

According to the monitoring that was carried out, the restoration was successful. The experts developed an algorithm on the performance of the fishes’ introduction. The results of the project were published in a printed edition.
 
	© Wikimedia
Cottus Gobio
© Wikimedia

WWF closed the survey on the migration barriers along Rusenski Lom River

November 15, 2014
 
On November 7 WWF finished the investigation on migration barriers for fish along Rusenski Lom River and its feeders in Lomovete Natura 2000 site, which is part of the LIFE+ Free Fish project.
 
After the environmental experts accomplished a full investigation on all rivers and marked all potential barriers to the fish migration, they carried out a further study to assess the level of the bariiers’ impact on the fish populations. It turned out that Rusenski Lom and its tributaries do not represent an exception to the other rivers in Bulgaria. There are numerous facilities that create problems for the migration of aquatic organisms in all rivers.
 
"The good news is that some of the barriers are impassable for the fish only at low water level but when the waters are high, the fish can swim through them," said Ivan Hristov, Coordinator of Freshwater Programme in WWF.
 
In relation to the implementation of the activities under LIFE+ Free Fish project, the measures on building fish passages and removing migration barriers will focus on the main stream of Rusenski Lom, its tributary Cherni Lom and the lower course of Mali Lom. The experts identified two suitable locations for restoration of the river morphology as habitats for fish: the section of Rusenski Lom River until the rock churches and Cherni Lom River near its confluence with Baniski Lom.
 
Donor of the project is LIFE programme, the financial instrument for the environment of the European Union. The total project cost is € 411 057, including € 205 528 co-financing from the EU and € 190 179 from WWF.
 
 
	© WWF
Rusenski Lom River
© WWF

Cottus Gobio: WWF will restore its population

WWF will release 200 bullhead specimens in Lomovete and Bulgarka protected zones.

January 14, 2015

Upcoming activity under the LIFE Free Fish project of WWF is the releasing of at least 200 specimens of the species bullhead (Cottus gobio) in rivers in the Lomovete and Bulgarka protected sites, which are part of the European ecological network Natura 2000. Based on an in-depth study, the WWF experts will select territories where the species has sufficiently strong population and from there will take small fishes for restocking in Lomovete and Bulgarka protected sites, where the bullhead has been extinguished.
 
The bullhead belongs to the Cottidae family. It lives in rivers throughout Europe without Italy, Greece, Ireland and northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. it has become a very rare species with decreasing numbers in the recent years in Bulgaria. The bullhead has disappeared from many of its previous habitats.
 
According to the available information, the bullhead occurs in some of the rivers in Natura 2000 sites, namely the protected sites Kotlenska planina, Tvardishka planina, Stara reka, Rila, Zapadna Stara planina and Predbalkan, Tsentralen Balkan and Tsentralen Balkan – buffer. (According to the standard data forms (SDF) about Natura 2000 and to the project of the Ministry of environment and water “Mapping and identification of conservation status of natural habitats and species – Phase I”.)
 
According to the experts ichthyologists, with whom WWF works, this rare species is registered also outside the network of protected sites – in the rivers Iskar, Beli Iskar, Cherni Iskar, Levi Iskar, Lakatitsa, Pryaka reka and Batuliyska reka. Some of these habitats of the bullhead belong to Niska Rila Natura 2000 site. This is the last protected site of the land part of Natura 2000 network, which remains to be declared.
 
The bullhead inhabits the upper reaches of the rivers and in particular prefers areas with gravel or sand-gravel bottom (between 95% and 100% of the section length). Any reduction in the proportion of gravel and sand by more than 1% of the natural state, replaced by mud areas (delay of river flow), has negative influence on this species. It prefers fast-flowing and cold water with 1.0 - 2.0 m/sec speed.
 
The bullhead matures sexually in the second year of its life. The breeding season is in April and May. The female specimen fertility is very low - between 100-300 eggs. After the spawning the spawn is attached on the underside of large stones and male individuals protect it. The bullhead feeds on various invertebrates and small fish.
 
	© Hu.wikipedia.org
Cottus Gobio
© Hu.wikipedia.org

CONSERVATION STATUS

The Bullhead is listed in the Habitats Directive of the EU, which means that it is a species that must be protected within the European environmental network Natura 2000. Accordingly, it is also included in the Bulgarian Biodiversity Act. The species is listed in the Bulgarian Red data book as critically endangered.

PROBLEM THAT WE ADDRESS

Cottus gobio is the most threatened species from all target species of the project. It is critically endangered according to the Bulgarian Red data book. It is extinct from most of its previous habitats and this process is still ongoing. In the past it was common inhabitant of the mountainous springs of all Danube River tributaries. Cottus gobio was accepted as extinct in Yantra River basin for the past 50 years but recently it was found within a small endangered population in Stara reka River, which is one of the project sites.

WWF carried out a study on riparian habitats and migration barriers

The specialists found six potential barriers in Rusenski Lom and Cherni Lom rivers.

September 30, 2014
 
In September 2014 WWF completed the investigation of riparian habitats and migration barriers along the rivers Rusenski Lom and Cherni Lom, which are part of the LIFE + Free Fish Project.
 
The specialists found six potential barriers in the two rivers. Along the rivers were identified 7 potential locations for removal of migration barriers, riverbed restoration and one modern fish passage construction. A further investigation on these barriers will be carried out in the near future.
 
During the study, the water level was unusually high due to torrential rains that swept over Bulgaria in the summer of 2014. Due to the rains the experts had difficulties in the real assessment of the barriers, as some barriers that at low water level would be insuperable, can now be passed over.

Due to the high water level the investigation on the smaller rivers in the area - Beli Lom, Mali Lom and Baniski Lom - was postponed for November 2014. WWF will make a final selection of locations along the Lom rivers, where we will remove migration barriers, restore the riverbed and ​​ construct a modern fish passage.

Donor of the project is LIFE programme, the financial instrument for the environment of the European Union. The total project cost is € 411 057, including € 205 528 co-financing from the EU and € 190 179 from WWF.
 
	© WWF/Ivan Hristov
Existing barrier.
© WWF/Ivan Hristov
 
	© WWF/Ivan Hristov
Possible location for construction of fish passage.
© WWF/Ivan Hristov
 
	© WWF/Ivan Hristov
Existing barrier.
© WWF/Ivan Hristov

WWF experts investigated the north-western Bulgarian rivers

October 15, 2014

In the period 22 to 26 September 2014 WWF experts visited 69 potential locations to assess the condition of the rivers after the repeated severe floods that happened in the summer of 2014. The investigation was related to the fieldwork under the LIFE + Free Fish project. They made more than 400 pictures of the sites.

The study covered the Tsibritsa, Lom, Skomlya, Archar, Vidbol, Voinishka (a total of 62 points) and Rusenski Lom rivers (7 points) that were examined for potential locations for species restoration under the project.

The specialists found out that the water level in Tsibritsa, Lom and Vidbol rivers is very high and they are very turbid. These rivers are basic locations for potential source populations for Gobio kesslerii and Gobio uranoscopus. The experts also found out that the zoobenthos animals were significantly influenced/washed away by the high waters and at many places the waters carried away the bottom substrate. At those sites where it was possible to take ichtyological samplings using nets (ten-meter seine net), the experts found out a very big difference between the ichtyological communities in comparison to the preliminary studies that WWF conducted during the projects's preparation. The experts found opportunistic and invasive fish species (Prussian carp, Pseudorasbora), which are characteristic of degraded ecosystems and usually inhabit dams.

The specialists found more negative results although they were not manifested so clearly in the potential localities for examination of the river mussel Unio crassus in Vidbol River. However, despite the high water and high turbidity, the experts identified Unio crassus specimens. It means that possibly their population was not completely destroyed. The impact of the high water in Rusenski Lom River was much weaker and, besides the higher water levels, the fish and zoobenthos populations were not impacted negatively furthermore.

The examinations led to several major conclusions: it is now virtually impossible to implement the study of habitats and populations of the target species due to the high water level and flow speed. Furthermore, even if the water level decreases and enables the studies’ implementation, the results will not be relevant because the condition of the rivers is very different from the normal situation, and will not show real results, since the water quality was affected negatively, the bottom zoocenosises were washed away or almost absent, especially in Lom and Tsibritsa rivers, and the fish cenosises were heavily damaged. According to the specialists, the restoration of the normal state of the bottom zoocenosises, water quality and fish cenosises will probably take one year. Rusenski Lom River was affected less by the torrential rains and the severe flooding.

The experts drew up a list of recommendations:
  • They recommend implementation of a second survey including the same points which were examined in the current study, as well as potential points of Vit and Yantra rivers to find out the degree of recovery of the river ecosystems.
  • The main study of the habitats and source fish populations in Tsibritsa, Lom, Skomlya, Archar, Vidbol, Voinishka and Topolovets rivers need to be postponed again for the summer or autumn of 2015.
  • Studies on the ichthyofauna and zoobenthos communities of Rusenski Lom can be carried out in the autumn of 2014 but it depends on the weather conditions and the river level. If the river level decreases to levels permitting electrofishing, the experts could take samples before the end of October or in the first half of November 2014.
 
	© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
The risen Tsibritsa River.
© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
 
	© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
Electrofishing
© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
 
	© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
Examination of the populations by drag-net.
© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
 
	© WWF/Stoyan Mihov
Unio crassus found in Vidbol River.
© WWF/Stoyan Mihov

The fieldwork at the rivers in Lomovete protected site has started

July 25, 2014

The fieldwork on the habitats survey along the rivers in Rusenski Lom Nature Park has started. The work is part of WWF’s Free Fish project which will continue four years and is funded by the LIFE programme of the European Union.

The tasks are:
Survey of the existing barriers which hinder the natural movement of the species in order to select suitable barrages on Rusenkski Lom River to be removed.
Survey of at least 200 meters of the bottom of Rusenkski Lom River of sites suitable for restoration with suitable gravel bottom substrate that will provide habitat necessary for Kessler's Gudgeon and Mediterranean Barbel.
Survey of suitable locations to choose a place to build a fishway on Rusenkski Lom River connecting sections of at least 15 km downstream and 15 km upstream from the fishway.

To fulfill these tasks, the experts of WWF and Rusenski Lom Nature Park preliminary map and investigate the river habitats and riparian vegetation in Lomovete protected site and its adjacent areas. They collect information on migration barriers, riffles, typical river sections, riparian vegetation, depth and width of the river, bottom substrate, side arms, deposition landforms and more.

Within this project WWF uses innovative techniques and technologies for Bulgaria and the region which contribute to the conservation of several rivers in Danube basin’s Bulgarian part. The main project’s objective is to improve the conservation status of six protected and endangered small rheophilic fish species and one mollusc species of (mussel) in selected sections of the rivers in Natura 2000 sites from the Danube River Basin in northern Bulgaria.

To achieve its goal, WWF collects and classifies current and comprehensive scientific information from the project territory. Data on the status of the target species and their habitats cover populations of seven species of fish and invertebrates in 30 river basins at a total area of over 45 000 square meters in at least 14 Natura 2000 sites.

Donor of the project is LIFE programme, the financial instrument for the environment of the European Union. The total project cost is € 411 057, including € 205 528 co-financing from the EU and € 190 179 from WWF.
 
	© WWF
Data collection.
© WWF
 
	© WWF
Distance measuring device.
© WWF
 
	© WWF
GPS
© WWF

WWF's Freshwater Programme Coordinator took part in a river meeting in Estonia

September 15, 2014

From 10 to 12 September 2014 in Estonia took place the Riverine LIFE Platform meeting. It was attended by managers of projects on river conservation funded by the EU Life programme. The meeting was carried out to exchange experience between projects working on conservation of rivers and river ecosystems.

The meeting was attended by Ivan Hristov, WWF’s Freshwater Programme Coordinator. "This was a rare opportunity to see and assess the overall picture of the work on the rivers and the impact of our projects on a European level", he said. "The work on the rivers' biodiversity conservation is underappreciated and yet the number of projects in this area is insufficient, as insufficient is the expert potential in this area. This is particularly relevant for Bulgaria. That is why it is important to find partners working on the same issues, on which we are working in Bulgaria", Hristov said. He gave an example on the protection of Unio crassus mussel. Only one project in Europe, in Sweden, works on the same issue of protecting this mussel but their experience and problems are relevant to WWF’s LIFE+ Free Fish project in Bulgaria.
 
	© Cristina Munteanu/WWF Romania
Introducing the projects Life Happy Fish and Life Happy River in Estonia.
© Cristina Munteanu/WWF Romania

WWF launched massive campaign to save the Bulgarian rivers

August 30, 2014

In August 2014 WWF launched the national river campaign "Write the story of the rivers", which will continue until the end of the year.

During the campaign we inform the public about the most serious problems that lead to damage to rivers and river ecosystems and to the reduction or extinction of fish populations in Bulgaria:
  • Felling of riparian vegetation
  • Blocking of rivers
  • Improper construction or lack of fish passages
  • Unregulated gravel extraction
  • Transforming the rivers into canals
  • Failure to comply with minimum water flow requirements
  • Danube sturgeons.
The campaign’s main instrument is the petition for saving the rivers, as our goal is to gather 50 000 signatures to support the organization's work on the conservation of the Bulgarian rivers’ natural status.

More about the campaign can be found HERE
 
The campaign also draws attention to endangered Bulgarian fish species, including the sturgeons and the species we are working with under the LIFE+ Free Fish project.
 
	© WWF
Petition for saving Bulgaria's rivers.
© WWF

The responsible institutions will discuss the construction of fish passes

WWF organizes a meeting under the Life+ Free Fish project.
April 10, 2014

On April 15 at 14:00 in "Venus" conference center at 9 Dondukov Blvd in Sofia a meeting for development of guidelines for the construction of fish passes under "Conservation and restoration of Natura 2000 rheophilic fish species and their migratory routes in key SCIs in Bulgaria" (Life + Free Fish) project of WWF will be held. The aim of the event is formation of expert council, discussion on the problem of fish passes and identification of key tasks for improvement of the legal framework and its implementation.

The meeting will be attended by representatives of the competent authorities responsible for the construction of fish passes on the barrages of the rivers: the National Nature Protection Service and Water Management Directorates of the Ministry of Environment and Water Affairs, the National Agency for Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Basin Directorates in Plovdiv and Pleven, Rusenski Lom Nature Park Directorate and representatives of the scientific organizations Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia University, environmental organizations, the Chamber of Engineers in the Investment Design and Balkanka Fishing club.

WWF project coordinator Katerina Rakovska will open the meeting, and WWF Freshwater Programme coordinator Ivan Hristov will present the Life+ Free Fish project. The problem with fish passes in Bulgaria will be illustrated by Dimitar Kumanovov, expert from the Chamber of Engineers in the Investment Design, and WWF Freshwater Programme expert Lubomir Kostadinov will introduce to the audience a brief analysis on the problem with the small hydropower plants and the rivers in Bulgaria.

One of the main goals of the meeting is to discuss and define the basic tasks of the terms of reference for development of guidelines on the construction of fish passes in Bulgaria.

The preparation fish passes construction guidelines which meet the environmental requirements of the project target species inhabiting the relevant protected Natura 2000 sites is a key activity of WWF’s project. It is necessary because currently there are no stipulated requirements for fish passes, and in most cases they are built formally and without guarantees that they perform their functions. Data shows that this problem is common not only for the project target species but for all fish species in Bulgaria.

The development of fish passes construction recommendations is a complex activity that has engineering, environmental and administrative aspects. Thus its planning requires participation of different stakeholders and setting up an expert council for the activity. The council’s tasks include participating in the planning of terms of reference for the guidelines development - participation in a meeting and commenting on the final version of the terms of reference, as well as subsequent discussion of the recommendations. The expert council should help the overall review of the problem with the fish passes in Bulgaria.

The project "Conservation and restoration of Natura 2000 rheophilic fish species and their migratory routes in key SCIs in Bulgaria", or Life+ Free Fish, LIFE12 NAT/BG/001011, started in the end of the last year and will last until 2017. Its main goal is to improve the conservation status of six rheophilic fish species - European bullhead (Cottus gobio), bitterling (Rhodeus amarus), golden spined loach (Sabanejewia aurata), kessler's gudgeon (Gobio kessleri), danube gudgeon (Gobio uranoscopus), Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis) and one mollusk species - thick shelled river mussel (Unio crassus) in selected sites of rivers in Natura 2000 sites of the Danube basin in Bulgaria. The project is co-financed by the LIFE+ Programme of the EU.

For more information, please visit: http://www.wwf.bg/what_we_do/rivers/free_fish/life_free_fish/.
 
 
	© Andrey Ralev
Unusable fish pass constructed on Davidkovsa River in Bulgaria.
© Andrey Ralev

WWF presented the Free Fish project on the occasion of the World Fish Migration Day

May 23, 2014

On May 22, the International Day of Biodiversity, WWF celebrated the World Fish Migration Day 2014, organized for the first time this year on May 24. 

Experts from the Freshwater Programme of the WWF met journalists and general public in Sofia City Garden where the organization presented the projects related to the conservation of migratory fish - sturgeons in the Danube River and the species under Life Free Fish project.

The World Fish Migration Day is a one day global initiative celebrated locally with various events, set to create awareness on the importance of open rivers that have not been affected by human activity, and on the migratory fish. The feast is held to raise public awareness on the urgent need of open rivers for migratory fish.

Free migration for fish is crucial to achieve healthy fish stocks around the world. While most fish migrate to some degree, some species like salmon, sturgeon, trout, dourada, shad, lamprey, giant catfish and eel migrate thousands of kilometers to complete their life cycles. If they can’t migrate, the population will die out. This has happened with many species in different places around the world already. Moreover in many regions of the world, like in the Mekong river basin, millions of people rely on migratory fish as a food source. A collapsing fish stock has a devastating effect on the life of local people.

The target species of the Free Fish project are European bullhead, Mediterranean Barbel, White-finned Gudgeon, Kessler's Gudgeon, Danube Gudgeon, Balkan Loach, Golden Spined Loach and Bitterling. All of them are protected by the European Natura 2000 ecological network and are declining in number.

Migration barriers are the biggest problem for the species swimming long distances to spawn, but in practice they are a barrier to all wild species.We have built so many barriers in the rivers and on the coast that it is very hard for fish to reproduce. In the current situation, migratory fish are threatened and fish stocks are declining rapidly around the world. The weirs, hydropower plants and sluices, built for water catchment, hydropower and land drainage are the main threats for migratory fish in Bulgaria.
 
 
	© WWF/Vesselina Kavrakova
World Fish Migration Day 2014, Sofia.
© WWF/Vesselina Kavrakova

WWF Bulgaria prepares to restore important small river fishes in the Danube Plain

The project “Conservation and restoration of Natura 2000 rheophilic fish species and their migratory routes in key SCIs in Bulgaria” has started
December 17, 2013

In late 2013 WWF Bulgaria started the preparatory actions, for the first stage of the project “Conservation and restoration of Natura 2000 rheophilic fish species and their migratory routes in key SCIs in Bulgaria” LIFE12 NAT/BG/001011. The project will continue four years. It is financed by the LIFE+ Programme, the financial instrument for the environment of the European Community.

Currently WWF Bulgaria is recruiting experts from the Bulgarian scientific field who will conduct the necessary surveys needed for the preparatory actions. WWF Bulgaria’s Freshwater Expert Stoyan Mihov, member of the project team, is compiling the exact tasks which will be assigned to the selected experts.

The very first activity of the project is conducting surveys of the population status of target fish and invertebrate species in the project areas. The survey will be conducted in the first field season from April to October 2014 in fifteen selected Natura 2000 sites at a total of about 30 sampling sites. Each site will be examined at least once during the field season, and twice or more times later, if necessary.

The population survey of the species aims to collect the information necessary to implement the measures for restoring their populations. The target species are kessler's gudgeon (Gobio kessleri), danube gudgeon (Gobio uranoscopus), European bullhead (Cottus gobio), golden spined loach (Sabanejewia aurata), bitterling (Rhodeus amarus), Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis) and thick shelled river mussel (Unio crassus) from invertebrates.

The mussel is included in the group of target species because, apart from being an endangered species, it is a basic factor for the existence of the European bitterling. Its offspring develop in the gill cavity of bivalves and the restoration of the bitterling without mussels is impossible.

The fish communities will be examined in accordance with their basic population characteristics, including number, size, structure and distribution area. All surveys will be carried out by expert ichthyologists and hydro-biologists.

This survey is tied-in with the implementation of the concrete conservation action of restoration of the target species’ populations. It is so because the survey is a source of information about the places where species will be taken from, as well as about the maximum age and number of species that can be used. Furthermore, the information will be used as reference data for future monitoring of restored populations. 
 
	© WWF / Радостина Митова
Експертите на WWF България Стоян Михов (вляво), ихтиолог, и Иван Христов, хидробиолог, изследват видовете риби.
© WWF / Радостина Митова