Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
Northeast Region
 
Painting of an Atlantic sturgeon - Credit:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Daune Raver
Painting of an Atlantic sturgeon. Credit: Daune Raver/USFWS

Description

The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus) is one of two sturgeon species in the Connecticut River; the other is the shortnose sturgeon. The Atlantic sturgeon looks similar to the shortnose sturgeon, but has a longer snout and is much, much larger. Adult Atlantic sturgeon adults are tremendous in size, averaging 6 to 10 feet in length and 50 to 200 pounds in weight. Atlantic sturgeon are olive to black dorsally shading to white below. Sturgeons are an ancient species with fossils dating back 65 million years. They are very distinctive, looking like a prehistoric cross between a shark and a catfish. Sturgeons lack teeth and scales but have a unique body armor of diamond-shaped bony plates called scutes.

Atlantic Sturgeon - Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Atlantic Sturgeon. Credit: USFWS

Life History

Atlantic sturgeon are anadromous, migrating from the ocean to fresh water specifically to reproduce. Atlantic sturgeon reproduce in the spring, broadcasting one million to two and a half million eggs per female. After hatching, the young sturgeon stay in the river for 2 to 7 years before migrating to the ocean.

Distribution

Atlantic sturgeon can be found along the east coast of North America from Canada to Florida. In the Connecticut River basin, a small number of individuals are found in the Connecticut River mainstem in Connecticut.

Status

Atlantic sturgeon are listed as threatened by the State of Connecticut. There are in fact fewer Atlantic sturgeon in the Connecticut River than shortnose sturgeon, which is endangered on a national level. The Connecticut River population was nearly wiped out by over-harvesting and pollution during the 1800's and 1900's. Sturgeon were harvested heavily for meat, skin (for leather), the swim bladder (used to make a gelatin for waterproofing, cement, and wine-making), and their eggs (roe), which were prized as caviar. Because there are very few individuals left and likely no spawning activity occurring, the Connecticut River Atlantic sturgeon probably do not represent a true population. Though it is strictly regulated, this sturgeon species is still commercially harvested in other areas.

Restoration Efforts

Along the east coast, several States have closed their Atlantic sturgeon fisheries, and other States have raised the size limit to 7 feet. There is some rearing being done in hatcheries. These hatchery fish have been used to boost wild populations in the Hudson River. Research is also being conducted to determine the migration routes of Atlantic sturgeon.

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Last updated: September 8, 2010
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