Welaka National Fish Hatchery
Southeast Region



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Gulf Coast Sturgeon

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pleased to provide the final Recovery/Management Plan for the Gulf Sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi. The Plan culminates a unique partnership to prepare a combined recovery and fishery management plan with the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. The recovery/management team and advisors included a representative from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Biological Service, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the University of Florida, and a commercial fisherman.

The Plan is intended to serve as a guide that delineates and schedules actions to restore the Gulf sturgeon as a viable self-sustaining element of its ecosystem.


Facts on Sturgeon


The goals of the Plan are basically

  • to stop additional losses from existing populations
  • to delist the fish once stable populations are reached, and
  • to open a limited fishery (by river basin and state regulation).

Delisting of the Gulf sturgeon could begin by the year 2023 for river basins where recovery criteria have been met.


Fun Facts


Scientific Name

Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi

Common Names

Gulf sturgeon, Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, common sturgeon and sea sturgeon.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) designated the Gulf sturgeon to be a threatened subspecies, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). The listing became official on September 30, 1991.

As part of the listing, a special rule was promulgated to allow taking of the subspecies for educational purposes, scientific purposes, the enhancement of propagation or survival of the subspecies, zoological exhibition, and other conservation purposes consistent with the ESA. The special rule will allow conservation and recovery activities for Gulf sturgeon to be accomplished without a federal permit, provided the activities are in compliance with applicable state laws.

The current population levels of Gulf sturgeon in rivers other than the Suwannee and Apalachicola are unknown, but are thought to be reduced from historic levels. Historically, the subspecies occurred in most major rivers from the Mississippi River to the Suwannee River, and marine waters of the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico to Florida Bay.

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Gulf sturgeon are anadromous fish with a sub-cylindrical body imbedded with bony plates or scutes. The snout is greatly extended and bladelike with four fleshy barbels in front of the mouth, which is protractile on the lower surface of the head. The upper lobe of the tail is longer than the lower lobe The subspecies is light brown to dark brown in color and pale underneath. The fish can grow longer than nine feet and weigh in excess of 300 pounds.


Bottom dwelling organisms; amphipods, isopods, crustaceans, and marine worms.


Gulf of Mexico. Bays and estuaries in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Major freshwater rivers from the Suwannee River, Florida to the Mississippi River.

The Gulf Sturgeon is an anadromous fish which migrates from salt water into large coastal rivers to spawn and spend the warm months. The majority of its life is spent in fresh water. Major population limiting factors are thought to include barriers (dams) to historical spawning habitats, loss of habitat, poor water quality, and over fishing.

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Spawing Habitat

This anadromous species migrates from salt water during February thru April into coastal rivers to spawn, then returns to salt water during October thru November.

Life History

Spends most of its life in rivers. Long-lived up to 70 years. Requires 9 to 12 years to reproduce which makes it vulnerable to over harvest and habitat change. Adults do not feed in freshwater. They have a very strong homing tendency that guides them to their natal streams. A 100 pound female could have 500,000 eggs.

Natural Enemies


Threats to Survival

Barriers to spawning grounds (dams), habitat loss, poor water quality.

Interesting Note

Fossil ancestry of this primitive fish dates back to 200 million years. In the late 19th and early 20 centuries, sturgeon were harvested for their edible flesh and eggs for caviar.

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Recovery Objectives

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

The short-term recovery objective is to prevent further reduction of existing wild populations of Gulf sturgeon. The long-term recovery objective is to establish population levels that would allow delisting of the Gulf sturgeon in discrete management units. Gulf sturgeon in discrete management units could be delisted by 2023, if the required criteria are met. Following delisting, a long-term fishery management objective is to establish self-sustaining populations that could withstand directed fishing pressure within discrete management units.

Recovery Criteria

The short-term recovery objective will be considered achieved for a management unit when the catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) during monitoring is not declining from the baseline level over a 3 to 5-year period. This objective will apply to all management units within the range of the subspecies. Management units will be defined using an ecosystem approach based on river drainages, but may also incorporate genetic affinities among populations in different river drainages. Baselines will be determined by fishery independent CPUE levels.

The long-term recovery objective will be considered achieved for a management unit when the population is demonstrated to be self-sustaining and efforts are underway to restore lost or degraded habitat.

A self-sustaining population is one in which the average rate of natural recruitment is at least equal to the average mortality rate in a 12-year period. While this objective will be sought for all management units, it is recognized that it may not be achievable for all management units.

The long-term fishery management objective will be considered attained for a given management unit when a sustainable yield can be achieved while maintaining a stable population through natural recruitment. Note that the objective is not necessarily the opening of a management unit to fishing, but rather the development of a population that can sustain a fishery. Opening a population to fishing will be at the discretion of state(s) within whose jurisdiction(s) the management unit occurs. As with the long-term recovery objective, this objective may not be achievable for allmanagement units, but will be sought for all units.

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Please direct questions and comments, via E-mail or telephone, to:

Gail Carmody, Project Leader
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1612 June Avenue
Panama City, FL 32405


Last updated: September 16, 2009