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Atlantic sturgeon

Acipenser oxyrhynchus

Life HistoryAtlantic sturgeon

  • Atlantic sturgeon are anadromous fish which spend most of their lives in saltwater and enter freshwater to spawn.
  • Sturgeon are a long lived fish which spawn infrequently. First spawning occurs between 5 and 30 years of age. Subsequent spawning can occur every 2 to 6 years after sexual maturity is reached.
  • Young fish stay in the river where they were born for up to 6 years before moving to coastal waters. Once sturgeon reach open water, they tend to stay close to shore.
  • The oldest Atlantic sturgeon was estimated to be around 60 years of age. The largest sturgeon have been recorded at over 800 pounds and 14 feet in length.

Status

  • The Chesapeake Bay once supported a large and valuable population of Atlantic sturgeon. However, throughout its range, populations have virtually disappeared due to over-fishing, poor water quality, and dammed rivers blocking fish from their spawning areas.
  • Although spawning likely occurred in many tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, there is now only limited spawning in the York and James Rivers.
  • A status review team was convened in 2006 to assess Atlantic sturgeon populations. In March of 2007, findings published in the Federal Register stated that 3 out of 5 of the distinct population units (New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, and Carolina) were likely to become endangered in the next 20 years. This finding leads to the next step of listing these populations as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Restoration

  • By 1998, a moratorium was in place coast-wide for Atlantic sturgeon.
  • The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Fisheries Management Plan calls for rebuilding at least 20 year classes of Atlantic sturgeon to restore the population.
  • Experimental stocking was conducted in 1994 in the Hudson River and in 1996 in the Nanticoke River. Based on positive results in the Nanticoke River, a stocking program is being developed by the state of Maryland.

Other fish facts

  • Atlantic sturgeon is among the oldest fish species living on earth dating back at least 70 million years.
  • Unlike other bony fish, sturgeon have bony plates called scutes instead of scales. The unusual skin of the Atlantic sturgeon helped make it one of the first economically important species in America.
  • In addition to being a source of food for struggling Jamestown settlers, sturgeon leather and sturgeon eggs (called roe or caviar) were important exports.
Last updated: January 30, 2013
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