Atlantic sturgeon

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Atlantic sturgeon

Vulnerable  (NatureServe)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Acipenseriformes
Family: Acipenseridae
Genus: Acipenser
A. o. oxyrinchus
Trinomial name
Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus
Mitchill, 1815

The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) is a member of the family Acipenseridae, and, along with other sturgeon, it is sometimes considered a living fossil. The Atlantic sturgeon is one of two subspecies of A. oxyrinchus, the other being the Gulf sturgeon (A. o. desotoi). The main range of the Atlantic sturgeon is in eastern North America, extending from New Brunswick, Canada, to the eastern coast of Florida, United States. A disjunct population occurs in the Baltic region of Europe (today only through a reintroduction project). The Atlantic sturgeon was in great abundance when the first European settlers came to North America, but has since declined due to overfishing, water pollution, and habitat impediments such as dams.[3] It is considered threatened, endangered, and even locally extinct in many of its original habitats. The fish can reach 60 years of age, 15 ft (4.6 m) in length and over 800 lb (360 kg) in weight.[4]

Physical appearance[edit]

Aquarium du Québec

Rather than having true scales, the Atlantic sturgeon has five rows of bony plates known as scutes. Specimens weighing over 800 lb and nearly 15 ft in length have been recorded, but they typically grow to be 6–8 ft (1.8–2.4 m) and no more than 300 lb (140 kg). Its coloration ranges from bluish-black and olive green on its back to white on its underside. It has a longer snout than other sturgeons and has four barbels at the side of its mouth.[5]


Atlantic sturgeon under six years of age stay in the brackish water where they were born before moving into the ocean. They may be 3–5 ft (0.91–1.52 m) long at this stage. In areas where shortnose sturgeon are also present, the adults of that species can be, and historically were for centuries, confused with immature Atlantic sturgeon. When mature, they travel upstream to spawn. The females may lay 800,000 to 3.75 million eggs in a single year, doing so every two to six years. After laying their eggs, females travel back downstream, but males may remain upstream after spawning until forced to return downstream by the increasingly cold water. They may even return to the ocean, where they stay near the coastline.[citation needed]

The species is also known for its occasional 'leaping' behavior, during which the fish will emerge completely out of the water in a forceful motion that can be hazardous to anything unlucky enough to be struck.[6][7] The exact reason why sturgeon leap remains unknown, although some scholars believe leaping is a form of group communication. In one study, of a population of the species in the Suwannee river in northwestern Florida, leaping behavior was found to vary seasonally, with the highest frequency of occurrence in June.[8]

Economic history[edit]

Originally, the Atlantic sturgeon was considered a worthless fish. Its rough skin would often rip nets, keeping fishermen from catching more profitable fish. Sturgeon were one of the types of fish harvested at the first North American commercial fishery, and were the first cash "crop" harvested in Jamestown, Virginia.[citation needed] Other fisheries along the Atlantic coast harvested them for use as food, a leather material used in clothing and bookbinding, and isinglass, a gelatinous substance used in clarifying jellies, glues, wines and beer. However, the primary reason for catching sturgeon was the high-quality caviar that could be made cheaply from its eggs, called black gold by watermen. In the late 19th century, seven million pounds of sturgeon meat were exported from the US per year. Within years, however, that amount dropped to 22,000 pounds. The number later rose to about 200,000 pounds a year in the 1950s.[citation needed]

Conservation status[edit]

In February 2012, the Atlantic sturgeon was listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).[9] Four distinct population segments (DPSs) were listed as endangered (New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic) while one DPS was listed as threatened (Gulf of Maine).[10] As of this writing (July 22, 2015) there are concerns that the construction of the bridge to replace the Tappan Zee connecting Rockland County to Westchester County in New York, in the Hudson River, may impact the sturgeon's ecological stability.[11]

The American Fisheries Society considers the fish as threatened throughout its entire range, although it is believed to no longer inhabit the full range it once did. In the Chesapeake watershed, the James River in Virginia is one of the last confirmed holdouts for that region's population. In May 2007, a survey captured 175 sturgeon in the river, with 15 specimens exceeding 5 ft (1.5 m).[12] A bounty-based survey of live Atlantic sturgeon in Maryland's portion of the bay found a high number of captures reported in 2005–06.[13][14]

In 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service considered designating sixteen rivers as endangered habitat, which would require more attention to be given to uses of the rivers that affect the fish.[15] Then in 2018, NMFS actually mapped a total of thirty-one critical river habitats along the United States' Atlantic shores.[16]

Baltic population[edit]

The now nearly extinct sturgeon population in the Baltic Sea area belongs to the Atlantic sturgeon A. oxyrinchus rather than to the European species A. sturio as had been thought. A. oxyrinchus migrated to the Baltic about 1300 years ago and displaced the native A. sturio.[17]

The last known specimen of the Atlantic sturgeon in the Baltic region was caught in 1996 near Muhumaa in Estonia. It was 2.9 m (9.5 ft) long, weighed 136 kg (300 lb), and was estimated to be about 50 years old.[18]

A German-Polish project was underway in 2009 to reintroduce the sturgeon into the Baltic by releasing specimens caught in the Canadian Saint John River into the Oder, a river at the border between Germany and Poland where the species once spawned.[19] The project expanded in 2013 to include Estonia, where one-year-old juveniles were released into the Narva River.[20]

Conservation designation[edit]

IUCN: Vulnerable[1]

CITES: Appendix II[21]

The American Fisheries Society considers it endangered in all stream systems except conservation-dependent in the Hudson, Delaware, and Altamaha Rivers.[citation needed]

The Atlantic sturgeon of the Delaware River are listed under the ESA as part of the New York Bight distinct population segment (DPS),[22][23] which includes all Atlantic sturgeon that spawn in watersheds draining to coastal waters from Chatham, Massachusetts, to the Delaware-Maryland border on Fenwick Island,[23]: 5881  the Chesapeake Bay DPS, the Carolina DPS and the South Atlantic DPS, while the Gulf of Maine DPS is listed threatened.[22][23] Canadian-origin populations are not currently listed under the U.S. ESA.[22] NMFS believes fewer than 300 spawning adults are in the Delaware River population; just over 100 years ago the estimated population was 180,000 spawning adult females.[citation needed]


Atlantic sturgeon are now a threatened species. Management of the species is largely based on the restriction of fishing of the species. This helps limit fishing mortalities of sturgeon to bycatch.[24]


  1. ^ a b Hilton, E.; Fox, D. (2022). "Acipenser oxyrinchus ssp. oxyrinchus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2022: e.T243A95763750. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-1.RLTS.T243A95763750.en. Retrieved 9 July 2023.
  2. ^ NatureServe (3 March 2023). "Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus". NatureServe Network Biodiversity Location Data accessed through NatureServe Explorer. Arlington, Virginia: NatureServe. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  3. ^ Fisheries, NOAA (2021-01-19). "Atlantic Sturgeon | NOAA Fisheries". NOAA. Retrieved 2021-05-14.
  4. ^ Schultz, Ken (2004). Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Freshwater Fish. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-62865-1.
  5. ^ "Acipenser oxyrinchus Mitchill, 1815 Atlantic sturgeon". FishBase. FishBase consortium. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Maryland Fish Facts". Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  7. ^ "Florida girl killed by jumping sturgeon". Associated Press. 6 July 2015 [Originally published 4 July 2015]. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  8. ^ Sulak, K. J.; Edwards, R. E.; Hill, G. W.; Randall, M. T. (17 December 2002). "Why do sturgeons jump? Insights from acoustic investigations of the Gulf sturgeon in the Suwannee River, Florida, USA". Journal of Applied Ichthyology. 18 (4–6): 617–620. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0426.2002.00401.x.
  9. ^ Eilperin, Juliet (1 February 2012). "Atlantic sturgeon listed as endangered species". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  10. ^ NMFS. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Listing Determinations for Two Distinct Population Segments of Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) in the Southeast.Federal Register;; v77, (February 6, 2012), 5914-5982.
  11. ^ "Group Petitions to Save a Prehistoric Fish From Modern Construction" article by Lisa W. Foderaro in The New York Times July 21, 2015
  12. ^ Karl Blankenship (September 2007). "Biologists fail to successfully spawn two female Atlantic sturgeon". Chesapeake Bay Journal. Archived from the original on 2010-12-13. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  13. ^ "Maryland Department of Natural Resources (2007?). Reward for Live Sturgeon. Accessed 8 August 2008.
  14. ^ "Reward for Live Atlantic Sturgeon". Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Archived from the original on 2010-01-04. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  15. ^ "Feds Move to Protect Endangered Atlantic Sturgeon in Delaware River - NJ Spotlight". Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  16. ^ "Atlantic Sturgeon Critical Habitat" (PDF). January 16, 2018.
  17. ^ Ludwig, A; Arndt, U; Lippold, S; Benecke, N; Debus, L; King, T. L.; Matsumura, S (2008). "Tracing the first steps of American sturgeon pioneers in Europe". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 8: 221. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-221. PMC 2527320. PMID 18664258.
  18. ^ "Muhu Maria jäi viimaseks Läänemerest püütud atlandi tuuraks". (in Estonian). Archived from the original on October 17, 2013.
  19. ^ Germany, SPIEGEL ONLINE, Hamburg (2006-10-31). "European Wildlife: Bringing the Sturgeon Back to Germany - SPIEGEL ONLINE - International". Retrieved March 28, 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "Eesti meres ujuvad taas tuurad". Maaleht (in Estonian). 18 October 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  21. ^ "Appendices I, II and III". CITES. 4 October 2017. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  22. ^ a b c "Species Directory: Atlantic Sturgeon". NOAA Fisheries. 30 January 2023. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  23. ^ a b c 77 FR 5880
  24. ^ Fisheries, NOAA (2022-10-27). "Action Plan to Reduce Atlantic Sturgeon Bycatch in Federal Large Mesh Gillnet Fisheries | NOAA Fisheries". NOAA. Retrieved 2023-11-17.

Further reading[edit]