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Gulf Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi)

Status | Taxonomy | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution |
Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview |
Key Documents | More Info

  Gulf Sturgeon
Gulf Sturgeon
(Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi)
Photo: U.S. Geological Survey


 

 

 

Status
ESA Threatened - throughout its range
CITES Appendix II - throughout its range

Taxonomy
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyes
Order: Acipenseriformes
Family: Acipenseridae
Genus: Acipenser
Species: oxyrinchus
Subspecies: desotoi

The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) is another subspecies of A. oxyrinchus.

Species Description
Weight: up to 200 pounds (90 kg)
Length: 4-8 feet (1-2.5 m)
Appearance:  primitive fish characterized by bony plates, or "scutes," and a hard, extended snout
Lifespan: 20-25 years on average, but can live up to 60 years
Diet: brachiopods, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans
Behavior: they migrate into rivers to spawn in the spring

Gulf sturgeon, also known as the Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, are "anadromous" fish, inhabiting coastal rivers from Louisiana to Florida during the warmer months, and the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries and bays in the cooler months.

Sturgeon are primitive fish characterized by bony plates, or "scutes," and a hard, extended snout; they have a "heterocercal" caudal fin--their tail is distinctly asymmetrical with the upper lobe longer than the lower. Adults range from 4-8 feet (1-2.5 m) in length, females attain larger sizes than males. They can live for up to 60 years, but average about 20-25 years.

Gulf sturgeon are bottom feeders, and eat primarily macroinvertebrates, including brachiopods, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans. All foraging occurs in brackish or marine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries; sturgeon do not forage in riverine habitat.

Gulf sturgeon migrate into rivers to spawn in the spring; spawning occurs in areas of clean substrate comprised of rock and rubble. Their eggs are sticky, sink to the bottom, and adhere in clumps to snags, outcroppings, or other clean surfaces.

  gulf sturgeon critical habitat
Gulf Sturgeon Critical Habitat
(click for larger view PDF)


Habitat
Gulf sturgeon are anadromous: adults spawn in freshwater and migrate into marine waters in the fall to forage and overwinter. Juvenile Gulf sturgeon stay in the river for about the first 2-3 years. Gulf sturgeon return to their natal stream to spawn.

Riverine habitats where the healthiest populations of Gulf sturgeon are found include long, spring-fed, free-flowing rivers, typically with steep banks, a hard bottom, and an average water temperature of 60-72° F. Gulf sturgeon initiate movement up to the rivers between February and April and migrate back out to the Gulf of Mexico between September and November.

Critical Habitat

In 2003, NMFS and the USFWS jointly designated Gulf sturgeon critical habitat in 14 geographic areas from Florida to Louisiana, encompassing spawning rivers and adjacent estuarine areas.

 
Gulf sturgeon range map
Gulf Sturgeon Range Map
(click for larger view PDF)


Distribution
Gulf sturgeon are found in river systems from Louisiana to Florida, in nearshore bays and estuaries, and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Population Trends
The total number of adult Gulf sturgeon is unknown. However, abundance in the seven coastal rivers of the Gulf of Mexico that Gulf sturgeon inhabit are estimates at over 15,000 adults. Of those rivevrs, the Suwannee River (GA-FL) supports the most viable subpopulation, estimated at over 9,000 in the mid-2000s. The subpopulation estimate for mature Gulf sturgeon in the Choctawhatchee River (AL-FL) ranges is approximately 3,000 fish. However, estimates for other rivers (Pearl, Pascaguola, Escambia, Yellow, and Apalachicola) average around 400.

Threats
Historically:

  • overfishing, throughout most of the 20th century

Current threats include:

  • construction of water control structures, such as dams and "sills", mostly after 1950, exacerbated habitat loss
  • dredging
  • groundwater extraction
  • irrigation
  • flow alterations
  • poor water quality
  • contaminants, primarily from industrial sources

Conservation Efforts
On September 30, 1991, the Gulf sturgeon was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (56 FR 49653). In 1995, a recovery/ management plan was published for the Gulf Sturgeon. In addition, all U.S. fisheries for the Gulf sturgeon have been closed.

This species is also included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species This link is an external site.

Regulatory Overview
The Gulf sturgeon was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1991. NMFS and USFWS share jurisdiction of this species. In 1995, we completed a joint Recovery and Management Plan [pdf].

In 2003, critical habitat for Gulf sturgeon was designated for 14 geographic areas among Gulf of Mexico rivers and tributaries.

NMFS completed a 5-year review [pdf] of Gulf sturgeon in September 2009.

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date
5-Year Review n/a 09/2009
Designation of Critical Habitat 68 FR 13370 03/19/2003
Recovery/Management Plan n/a 09/1995
ESA Listing Rule 56 FR 49653 09/30/1991

More Information

References

  • Lorio, W. 2000. Proceedings of the Gulf of Mexico sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) status of the subspecies workshop. Mississippi State University, Stennis Space Center, MS.
  • Sulak, K.J. and Clugston, J.P. 1999. Recent advances in life history of Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi, in the Suwannee River, Florida, USA: a synopsis. Journal of Applied Ichthyology 15:116-128.

Updated: February 27, 2013

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