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Atlantic sturgeon live in rivers and coastal waters from Maine to Florida.

Classified escort Atlantic

Hatched in the freshwater of rivers, Atlantic sturgeon head out to sea as juveniles, and return to their birthplace to spawn, or lay eggs, when they reach adulthood. The Atlantic sturgeon has five rows of bony plates known as scutes that run along its body and a snout with four slender, soft tissue projections, called barbels, in front of its mouth.

All of these features give the fish its unique look. Atlantic sturgeon are slow-growing and late-maturing, and have been recorded to reach up to 14 feet in length and up to 60 years of age. Atlantic sturgeon were once found in great abundance, but their populations have declined greatly due to overfishing and habitat loss.

Atlantic sturgeon were prized for their eggs, which were valued as high-quality caviar. Close to 7 million pounds of sturgeon were reportedly caught inbut by the catch declined to only 20, pounds, and by only pounds of sturgeon were recorded. Today, all five U. Atlantic sturgeon distinct population segments are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The populations in Canada and not protected under the U.

Endangered Species Act, but Canadian regulations would apply to those populations. The primary threats currently facing Atlantic sturgeon are entanglement in fishing gear, habitat degradation, habitat impediments such as dams and other barriers and vessel strikes.

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We use a variety of innovative techniques to study, protect, and recover these endangered fish. Working closely with our partners, we develop regulations and management plans that preserve and restore sturgeon habitat, monitor bycatch, and promote population recovery. The historical and current range of Atlantic sturgeon includes major estuaries and river systems from Canada to Florida.

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While still found throughout their historical range, Atlantic sturgeon spawning is known to occur in only 22 of 38 historical spawning rivers. Learn more about the population estimates for Atlantic sturgeon. Atlantic sturgeon were listed under the ESA in as five distinct population segments.

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A distinct population segment is the smallest division of a species permitted to be protected under the ESA. Atlantic sturgeon that hatch out in Gulf of Maine rivers are listed as threatened, and those that hatch out in other U. Atlantic sturgeon are not protected in Canada.

Atlantic sturgeon can grow to approximately 16 feet long and can weigh up to pounds.

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They are bluish-black or olive brown dorsally on their back with paler sides and a white belly. Atlantic sturgeon are similar in appearance to shortnose sturgeonbut can be distinguished by their larger size, smaller mouth, different snout shape, and tail scute pattern. Adult spawning runs of Atlantic sturgeon are still not completely understood.

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In rivers from Georgia to the Chesapeake Bay, scientists have confirmed that adult sturgeon spawn during the late summer and fall. In rivers from Delaware to Canada, adults spawn in the spring and early summer. Some researchers have hypothesized that spawning may occur in both the spring and fall, particularly likely in the mid-Atlantic, but that is yet to be confirmed in any river.

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Because adult Atlantic sturgeon migrate along the coast when not spawning and tend to preferentially use estuaries, estuarine-oriented adults may appear to be preparing to spawn in the spring or fall, but are actually just feeding.

Juvenile fish can leave their natal rivers as early as one year of age, so sometimes juvenile aggregations within a river may be composed of two or more different natal populations of fish.

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After spawning in northern rivers, males may remain in the river or lower estuary until the fall; females typically exit the rivers within four to six weeks after spawning. Upon hatching, larvae hide along the bottom and drift downstream until they reach brackish waters where they may reside for one to five years before moving into nearshore coastal waters.

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Tagging data indicate that these immature Atlantic sturgeon travel widely once they leave their birth rivers. Atlantic sturgeon are bottom feeders. They typically look for food that includes invertebrates such as crustaceans, worms, and mollusks, and bottom-dwelling fish such as sand lance. Historically, Atlantic sturgeon ranged along the Canadian and U. Atlantic Coast from Labrador to Florida.

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Due to overfishing, the abundance of natal populations is much less than historic levels, but breeding populations still exist in at least 22 U. Atlantic sturgeon are anadromous fish—they are born in freshwater, then migrate to the sea and back again to freshwater to spawn. Most juveniles remain in their river of birth natal river for at least several months before migrating out to the ocean.

Tagging data indicate that these immature Atlantic sturgeon travel widely up and down the East Coast, and as far as Iceland, when they are at sea. Atlantic sturgeon lifespan is correlated with how far north or south they live. They live up to 60 years in Canada, but likely only 25 to 30 years in the southeast.

Southern populations typically grow faster and reach sexual maturity earlier than northern populations.

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For example, Atlantic sturgeon mature in South Carolina rivers at 5 to 19 years of age, in the Hudson River at 11 to 21 years, and in the Saint Lawrence River at 22 to 34 years. Atlantic sturgeon spawning intervals range from 1 to 5 years for males and 2 to 5 years for females, with males returning almost every year and females usually returning every other year or every third year.

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Female egg production correlates with age and body size, and ranges fromto 1. In the Hudson River, females reach 50 percent of their maximum lifetime egg production at approximately 29 years.

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Fish from more southern rivers reach this production earlier and fish from Maine and Canada later. Atlantic sturgeon take approximately 3 to 10 times longer than other bony fish species to reach 50 percent of maximum lifetime egg production.

De’s in the Atlantic

The most ificant threats to Atlantic sturgeon are unintended catch in some commercial fisheries, dams that block access to spawning areas, poor water quality which harms development of sturgeon offspringdredging of spawning areas, water withdrawals from rivers, and vessel strikes. Atlantic sturgeon are sometimes accidentally caught by fishermen trying to catch something else. This is called bycatch. Bycatch occurs primarily in gillnet and trawl fisheries.

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The prevalence and likelihood of bycatch varies by fishing season. The fishing season also impacts the likelihood of sturgeon survival, which is more likely in cooler waters. Adults can be captured when moving into rivers to spawn.


Juveniles can be captured in rivers and estuaries when moving from their nursery habitat or year-round while swimming and feeding. Fisheries conducted within rivers and estuaries may intercept any life stage, while fisheries conducted in the nearshore and ocean waters are more likely to capture migrating juveniles and adults.

Learn more about fishing gear and risks to protected species. Atlantic sturgeon habitat can be disrupted or lost because of various human activities, such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals, saltwater intrusion often caused by groundwater pumping from freshwater wells or droughtchemical contamination of sediments in rearing areas, and other development.

Sturgeon need hard bottom substrates in freshwater reaches for spawning, so any activity that destroys those locations directly e. To support all life stages, Atlantic sturgeon also require sufficient water quantities and water qualities sufficient to support all life stages, which are often impacted by the activities above.

Recent dam removal projects on the Penobscot River, Maine and Rappahannock River, Virginia, have increased accessibility to upstream habitats. Atlantic sturgeon can be struck by the blades of a propeller as a boat is passing, or struck by the boat itself.

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The risk of injury and mortality can be high in areas with high ship traffic, including the Hudson, Delaware, and James rivers. They are struck and killed by large commercial vessels as well as smaller vessels such as recreational vessels. We do not know how many sturgeon are struck by vessels and survive their injuries.

About the Species

We are committed to the protection and recovery of the Atlantic sturgeon through implementation of conservation, regulatory, and enforcement measures. Our work includes:. We conduct research on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the Atlantic sturgeon. The are used to inform management decisions and enhance recovery efforts for this imperiled fish species. Learn how to release them safely PDF, 2 s.

View the sturgeon safe release sticker PDF, 1. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States. One of the main threats to marine animals is entanglement in fishing gear, especially gillnets.

Fishermen sometimes catch and discard animals they do not want, cannot sell, or are not allowed to keep. This is collectively known as bycatch. Atlantic Sturgeon are protected under the Endangered Species Act. This means that the Atlantic sturgeon is in danger of extinction throughout all or a ificant portion of its range.

NOAA Fisheries is working to protect this species with the goal of population recovery. NOAA Fisheries developed a recovery outline to commence the recovery planning process for Atlantic sturgeon.

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The outline is meant to serve as an interim guidance document to direct recovery efforts, including recovery planning, for the endangered New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic DPSs of the Atlantic sturgeon and the threatened Gulf of Maine DPS until a full recovery plan is developed and approved.

Read the recovery outline.

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Those areas may be deated as critical habitat through a rulemaking process. The deation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, wilderness reserve, preservation, or other conservation area; nor does the deation affect land ownership.

Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these deated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy deated critical habitat. On August 17,we deated areas in each of the distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon as critical habitat.

We deated these areas because they protect spawning locations, rearing areas, water quality, and water quantity necessary for Atlantic sturgeon survival. Sturgeon and other migrating fish, such as salmon, shad, and alewives, need access to freshwater habitat for spawning and rearing.

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In some cases, Atlantic sturgeon need to swim thousands of miles through the oceans and rivers to reach their destination, but they may be blocked from completing their journey by man-made barriers, such as dams. These barriers have had serious impacts on Atlantic sturgeon spawning runs along the entire East Coast, particularly in the Southeast.

Removal of outdated dams can greatly improve Atlantic sturgeon access to historical habitats. NOAA Fisheries works with conservation organizations, energy companies, states, tribes and citizens to evaluate barriers and improve fish passage. Most barriers have the same general impact on fish—blocking migrations—but each requires a specific set of conservation actions.

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