We Pass

Facilitating Fish Migration and Conservation at the Iron Gates


We Pass is an initiative aiming to facilitate fish migration in the Danube River Basin, set up by the ICPDR, Jaroslav Černi Institute, DDNI, CDM SMITH | OAK Consultants, and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. Our focus is on the preservation and reestablishment of endangered fish species migration routes in the Danube River, its tributaries, and specifically at the Iron Gates.

ICPDR/IKSD logo Jaroslav Černi Institute DDNI CDM SMITH OAK Consultants Norwegian Institute for Nature Research

We also appreciate the paramount importance of the region’s broader interlinked environmental well-being. We see the survival of native Danube river fish species such as sturgeon, shads, barbel, nase, and others as both indicators of the region’s environmental health and as symbolic of the Danube region’s common identity.

Flag of the European UnionThis project has received funding from the European Union

Sturgeon & the Danube

Having remained largely unchanged in some 200 million years, extant sturgeon fish species represent a natural heritage of the Danube River Basin. The ICPDR has adopted the ‘living fossil’ and dangerously under threat Danube Sturgeon as its flagship migratory fish species. They require different habitats and structurally varied river landscapes at different stages of their life cycle, and due to their sensitivity to environmental pressures, sturgeons are a crucial indicator species for the ecological quality of rivers – thus making them the ideal candidate to represent the region’s various threatened migratory fish species, and its general ecological well-being as a whole.

References to sturgeon conservation activities can be found in the national River Basin Management Plans of the Danube countries, the Danube River Basin Management Plan-Update 2015 and in the Danube Ministerial Declaration 2016 adopted at the third ICPDR Ministerial Meeting on 9 February 2016. Thus, advancing broad public awareness and political commitment for Danube Sturgeons – in addition to other characteristic migratory fish of the Danube – are a priority towards safeguarding the ecosystem of the Danube River Basin as a whole.

This action is financed through DG REGIO, and aspires to have a strong macro-regional character, focusing on its impact and the ramifications for the whole Danube Region. It is for this reason that a close and constant co-operation with the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) is central to this project. Various other synergies will also be explored and employed throughout the duration of this activity (please see chapter 2 for more details).

Feasibility Study & the Iron Gates

The specific objective of the project – “Study on environmental and ecological thematics in the framework of MRS and policy coordination with DG NEAR/ENV: Support for the implementation of the Feasibility Study analysing options for characteristic Danube fish migration at Iron Gate I & II – is to restore and preserve water and soil quality, and preserve biodiversity in the Danube region.

Specific attention must be drawn to the Iron Gates (aka Porțile de Fier / Đerdap) hydropower plant complex on the border between Romania and Serbia. This project dates back to the 1960s, the first of the two power plants having been completed in 1972, and the second in 1984. While an undoubtedly exemplary international project between the two states, and a vital source of low-carbon energy for the region, the Iron Gates have also had some adverse ecological effects on the region, including the blockage of key migration corridors for several Danube fish species, plus the submergence of the hitherto-inhabited island of Ada Kaleh (during Iron Gate I’s construction in 1970 and following the evacuation of the island’s inhabitants).

Furthermore, the Serbian side has previously proposed construction of a third, smaller hydropower station in the region (Đerdap III), notably with assurances of no perceivable effects to the area’s ecosystem. Addressing the blockage of migratory fish corridors around the Iron Gates is thus a central concern in the wider project of preserving biodiversity and the ecological viability of the entire Danube River, both before and after the Serbo-Romanian border region.

With concerted study and efforts such as We Pass though, these iconic fish can not only be saved from completely disappearing, but can have their numbers brought back up to healthy levels all along the Danube.

Activities & Deliverables

The tables below provide an overview of We Pass project tasks, expected outcomes and deliverables.

Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5
Project Management Analysis of current situation and data gathering Monitoring Fish Behaviour at Iron gates I & II Communication Activities Data Quality Assurance and Quality Checks, 3D basis model  
ICPDR Jaroslav Černi Institute for the Development of Water Resources DDNI & NINA ICPDR CDM Smith | OAK Consultants
• Overall project supervision and coordination     • Hydrological data
• Hydropower plants operational data
• Legislation Analysis
• Dams and infrastructure details
• Geotechnical data and maps
• Hydraulic data
• Detailed topographic map
• River morphology
• Design and installation acoustic receivers network
• Bathymetric 3D measurements
• Fishing and tagging the fish  
• Inform audience on the objectives and results
• Ensure transparency
• Maintain contact
• Raise awareness
• Bring together conflicting stakeholders
• Produce clear and public-friendly content
• Reiterate Danube Regional importance
• Identify & specify technical data requirements for Task 2
• QA/QC on receipt of data
• Analyse/process collected data
• Prepare and execute an experts workshop
• Commence building 3D model(s) with Task 2 data
• Identify other potential data sources

Task Desired Outcome Deliverable
Task 1 Cohesive and successful completion of project Project management tasks
Task 2 A report on site specific conditions at the Iron Gate I & II dams. Sturgeon passage facilities literature study. Gathering of hydrological and technical data of Iron Gate I & II dams. Review of sturgeon passage facilities.
Task 3 Coarse-grid study of migratory fish behaviour downstream Iron Gate II Dam and in the reservoir. Design and installation of acoustic receivers? network
Task 4 Improvement of public engagement for plight of migratory fish at the Iron Gates Task 4 Notable and provable public engagement with a strong focus on social media
Task 5.1 Identify & specify technical data; documentation and QC of received data Key data lists
Task 5.2 Brainstorming of ideas & incorporation of special knowledge International expert workshop
Task 5.3 3D CAD models of the Iron Gate dams using data gathered in Task 2 as basis for future fish passage design. (Data, e.g. as-builts and topography, on Romanian side is extremely limited). Commence building 3D basis data model
Task 5.4 Roadmap clarifying implementation process and required works. Roadmap

Animation Video

Our communication plan called for the production of a short, sharp, and easy-to-understand video to explain the project to the public. Pre-production began soon after We Pass was started up. We worked on a 90 second animated short clip, explaining the plight of migratory fish at the Iron Gates, and the specific aims of We Pass.

Offline Engagement

Cover of the magazinePushing for coverage via international publications and broadcasters is an ongoing concern for the project. When using a number of different channels to communicate information, messages should be adapted depending on medium (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, online media, social media, hard copy materials for distribution, information boards, etc.) The very first offline coverage of the project took place in the form of the ICPR magazine, Danube Watch, which ran a cover article on We Pass, plus an additional article covering the subject of sturgeons more generally written by associates from the BOKU.

Read the article in the Danube Watch magazine

We Pass Kick-off Meeting (Kladovo, Serbia, 8 - 10 April 2019)

On the 8-10 April 2019, a meeting was held in Kladovo, Serbia to kick off We Pass. At this meeting, key members of the international Steering Committee met and discussed the planned activities for the We Pass project, while also getting a chance to tour the Iron Gate hydropower plant itself.

Photo of We Pass Kick-off Meeting

Divided into three parts, the event opened with a press conference, followed by a field visit to the Iron Gates I at Đerdap, providing the attendees with a hands-on overview of the location at the heart of the project. The visit was followed by a boat tour of the Iron Gates gorge – an opportunity to brainstorm and break the ice before the full discussions took place.

A series of presentations from the various activity leaders then followed, introducing all of the proposed activities.

Members of the public, key stakeholders and members of the press were also on hand, able to participate in an open session and series of ‘World Café’ round table sessions to both learn and share information and views pertaining to the planned project activities.

Read the press release on the ICPDR website

We Pass Stakeholder Workshop (Vienna, 12 December 2019)

For the first stakeholder workshop under Activity 4 – communication, pertaining to We Pass, we took a slightly different approach to typical stakeholder workshops. On this occasion we aimed to make the event more of a ‘training and brainstorming session’, with a view towards equipping key project players with the tools necessary to conduct stakeholder workshops at the national and local level. For this purpose, we invited related projects from the region. In attendance were representatives from the following organisations addressing the plight of migratory fish and dealing with this dialogue and interaction between the environment and other sectors:

The idea behind this meeting shifted from the previously planned variety of activities to focus on a central meeting in Vienna (rather than several local meetings) with a generally higher added value and return on investment in terms of reach. The focus of the workshop was to equip regional representative with the tools necessary to use synergies within their own countries to, at the local level, disseminate We Pass activities to a broader audience under their own steam and with the use of local expertise and insider knowledge.

On a broader scale this workshop represented a next major step forward in raising awareness on the plight of migratory fish (in particular sturgeons) around the Iron Gates, and was a coming together of the key players able to progress the project forward.

group photo

This event, following the success of the kick-off event held in Kladovo, Serbia in April 2019, was a resounding milestone, with us now heading towards the final phase of the We Pass project in 2020. It explored the crossover point between communications and science, and gave participants material and information to be able to exploit synergies in the member countries.

It is particularly important to highlight the ongoing support of the EC, which was emphasised by their representative at the event. The EC assured us of the importance of a project such as We Pass and positioning it in the wider goals of the EC.

Read the related news article on the ICPDR website

Twitter screenshot

Synergies & Cross-fertilization

We Pass was invited to participate in the 2nd MEASURES Stakeholder workshop, 12th February 2020 at the University of University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna. At the workshop, the project was presented alongside a variety of other habitat and species conservation activities relating to sturgeon and migratory fish species in the Danube. We Pass was invited to contribute to dialogue throughout the event, and gathered further insight into key parallel projects in the region. MEASURES is an important partner for We Pass, and a vital knowledge hub for projects with our aims.

Next steps

Due to the current COVID-19 situation and the impact on the implementation of activities under task 3, 4 and 5, a request for contract extension of one year due to COVID-19 (force majeure) was sent to DG REGIO for approval.

All planned next meetings (including International Expert Workshop, planned for 6th to 7th October 2020, Vienna and Final Conference, planned for 19th to 20th November 2020, Vienna) have been postponed to a later stage in 2021 while the way forward for We Pass is currently under preparation.

With similar and complementary programmes already in place across the region with which We Pass can combine efforts, there is hope that as a solid piece of the overall conservation puzzle that is the Danube River Basin's sturgeon and ecosystem on a whole.


International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR)

Hélène Masliah-Gilkarov (Communications)

Edith Hödl (Project Management)

International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River
VIC - Room D0415
Wagramer Strasse 5
1220 Vienna, Austria

Jaroslav Černi Institute for the Development of Water Resources

Miodrag Milovanović

Jaroslav Černi Institute
Јарослава Черног 80
Beograd 11226

"Danube Delta" National Institute For Research And Development (DDNI)

Dr. Marian Paraschiv

165 Babadag Street
Tulcea 820112

CDM Smith | OAK Consultants

Marq Redeker | Wilco de Bruijne

Münsterstraße 304
40470 Düsseldorf

Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA)

Finn Økland

P.O. Box 5685 Sluppen
7485 Trondheim