occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Habitat and Ecology
Habitat Type: Freshwater
Depth range (m): 13.7 - 13.7
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Throughout the 20th century, sturgeon breeding habitats have been adversely impacted by dams, siltation, channel maintenance (dredging) and water pollution. Although habitat and water quality concerns still occur in several locations, the vast majority of formerly occupied habitats remain available to this species. Continued application of existing U. S. laws (e.g., Clean Water Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, etc.) should result in improvements sturgeon breeding and nursery habitats. With management measures in place the current population trend for Atlantic sturgeon is increasing.
A. o. oxyrinchus are widespread and several subpopulations could be considered relatively abundant. However, the subspecies is assessed as Near Threatened based on levels of past population declines and because of uncertainties about overall stock health and the lengthy time required for population recovery.
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: T3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Widespread in the western Atlantic from southeastern Canada to Florida; significant declines have occurred across entire range, with little recovery; apparently still declining in some areas due to habitat loss and deterioration; highly vulnerable to alteration or deterioration of coastal and riverine habitats. For further details, see the information for the species (Acipenser oxyrinchus).
The number of mature individuals in the current population most likely numbers considerably more than 10,000.
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Degree of Threat: A : Very threatened throughout its range communities directly exploited or their composition and structure irreversibly threatened by man-made forces, including exotic species
Peak landings on the Saint John River were 44 metric tones (mt) in 1988 but have declined in recent years to 10–14 mt. Only nine licensed fishermen remained in the St. John fishery in 1997. They were authorized to fish no more than 2,800 m of gill net with minimum mesh size of 33 cm. Minimum allowable size of sturgeon on the St. John is 120 cm and the season is closed during 1–30 June to protect spawners. Canadian authorities have expressed to U.S. authorities that these harvest levels are sustainable and do not damage the stocks (USFWS and NMFS 1998). A private aquaculture activity also occurs in New Brunswick with eggs and progeny produced from wild-caught adult sturgeon. Except for a few hundred live juveniles, most international trade in A. o. oxyrinchus in the late 1990s has been meat (2–34 mt/year) from Canada to the U.S. (CITES data).
No commercial or sport fishing for Atlantic sturgeon is allowed in territorial waters of the U.S. Atlantic Coast. The management authority for this species is the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and their amendment to the 1990 Fishery Management Plan (ASMFC 1998) requires (1) no possession allowed in the 15 Atlantic states until at least 20 year-classes reach breeding age (30–40 years); (2) annual reporting of by-catch and by-catch mortality; (3) urges habitat monitoring and improvements as well as research and genetics analysis; and (4) places certain restrictions on sturgeon culture for market production and restocking. In addition to the ASMFC action, the Secretary of Commerce has closed all U.S. Atlantic coastal EEZ waters to harvest of Atlantic sturgeon.
The recent USFWS-NMFS joint status review for Atlantic sturgeon determined that listing this species as threatened or endangered under the U.S. ESA is not warranted at this time. Atlantic sturgeon are widespread and several subpopulations could be considered relatively abundant. However, because of uncertainties about overall stock health and the lengthy time required for population recovery, USFWS has designated Atlantic sturgeon as a "candidate species" for possible future ESA listing and NMFS lists it as a "species of concern".
Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed
The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) is a North American member of the Acipenseridae family and is among the oldest fish species in the world. It is one of two subspecies of A. oxyrinchus, the other being the Gulf sturgeon, A. o. desotoi. The range of the Atlantic sturgeon extends from New Brunswick, Canada, to the eastern coast of Florida. It was in great abundance when the first settlers came to North America, but has since declined due to overfishing and water pollution. 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.
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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.
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.
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. The exact reason why sturgeon leap remains unknown.
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. 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.
In February 2012, the Atlantic sturgeon was officially classified as an endangered species by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service.
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). 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.
The now nearly extinct sturgeon population in the Baltic Sea belonged to the Atlantic sturgeon subspecies rather than to the European variant (A. sturio) as had been thought. This species migrated to the Baltic about 1300 years ago and displaced the native species.
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.
CITES: Appendix I
American Fisheries Society considers it endangered in all stream systems except conservation-dependent in the Hudson, Delaware, and Altamaha Rivers. However, on January 31, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it will list the Atlantic sturgeon in the Delaware River as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, because the species is in danger of extinction. The Atlantic sturgeon of the Delaware River are listed as part of the New York Bight distinct population segment, which includes all Atlantic sturgeon that spawn in watersheds draining to coastal waters from Chatham, Massachusetts, to the Delaware-Maryland border on Fenwick Island. 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.
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.
- St. Pierre, R. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) (2006). Acipenser oxyrinchus ssp. oxyrinchus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
- Schultz, Ken (2004). Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Freshwater Fish. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-62865-1.
- Maryland DNR Fisheries Service - Fish Facts Web Site
- Eilperin, Juliet (1 February 2012). "Atlantic sturgeon listed as endangered species". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
- Karl Blankenship (Sep 2007). "Biologists fail to successfully spawn two female Atlantic sturgeon". Chesapeake Bay Journal. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
- "Maryland Department of Natural Resources (2007?). Reward for Live Sturgeon. Accessed 8 August 2008.
- "Reward for Live Atlantic Sturgeon". Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Archived from the original on 2010-01-04. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
- 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.
- "Muhu Maria jäi viimaseks Läänemerest püütud atlandi tuuraks". Saarlane.ee. (Estonian)
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation - New York's Sturgeon
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2008). "Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus" in FishBase. October 2008 version.
- Burroughs, Frank [August 2006]. Confluence: Merrymeeting Bay. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 21-28. ISBN 978-0-88448-282-6.