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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Atlantic sturgeon listed as an endangered species

NOAA Fisheries announced that five populations of Atlantic sturgeon will be listed as endangered. Of the six populations on the east coast five of them made the list which include the Chesapeake Bay, New York Bight, Carolina, and South Atlantic. Included in these populations is the Delaware river population which might number as few as just 300 fish. The Gulf of Maine population is also in trouble.  That population made the threatened list.

Atlantic sturgeon are slow growing fish living most of their lives in saltwater.  They are dependent on freshwater estuaries for spawning and for their early growth where they remain until reaching 30 to 40 inches (about 6 years old). 

The southern fish grow at a faster rate than the northern ones, but nonetheless all populations can be considered very slow to mature.  For example, South Carolina sturgeon mature at 5 to 19 years of age while Hudson river fish are 11 to 21 years old before they mature. As you move further north the St. Lawrence sturgeon aren't mature until they reach 22 to 34 years of age.

One they grow they do get big though.  Atlantic sturgeon can grow to 14 feet long and weigh as much as 800 pounds. Typically they reach 6 or 8 feet and get up to 300 pounds.

Finally, this ancient species is getting the protection it deserves.  Since females spawn only every 2 to 5 years it is expected to take at least 40 years before the sturgeon recovers to a population that represents 20 age classes.

Besides simply multiplying, Atlantic sturgeon need to overcome many obstacles in their path.  These threats include river dredging, dams,locks, water withdrawals and getting hit by ships.

Hopefully 40 years from now these ancients of the ocean can again be considered thriving.

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