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Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)

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


ESA Endangered - throughout its range
CITES Appendix I - throughout its range

Species Description

up to 50 pounds (23 kg)
up to 4.5 feet (1.4 m)
bony plates called "scutes" along their back
average 30 years, but can live up to 67 years
adults: mollusks and large crustaceans
juveniles: benthic insects and small crustaceans
spawn in fresh water

Sturgeon are among the most primitive of the bony fishes. Their body surface contains five rows of bony plates, or "scutes." Sturgeon are typically large, long-lived fish that inhabit a great diversity of riverine habitat, from the fast-moving freshwater riverine environment downstream to the offshore marine environment of the continental shelf.

The shortnose sturgeon is the smallest of the three sturgeon species that occur in eastern North America; they grow up to 4.7 feet (1.4 m) and weigh up to 50.7 pounds (23 kg). Their growth rate and maximum size vary, with the fastest growth occurring among southern populations. Female sturgeon can live up to 67 years, but males seldom exceed 30 years of age. Thus, the ratio of females to males among young adults is 1:1, but changes to 4:1 for fish larger than 3 feet (90 cm).

Males and females mature at the same length, around 1.5-1.8 feet (45-55 cm), throughout their range. However, the age at which they reach that length varies from north to south due to a slower growth rate in the north. Males may mature at age 2 in Georgia, at age 4 from South Carolina to New York, and at age 10 in the St. John River in Canada. Females exhibit a similar trend and mature at age 6 or younger in Georgia, at age 7 from South Carolina to New York, and at age 13 in the St. John River. Age of first spawning in males occurs 1 to 2 years after maturity, but among females is delayed for up to 5 years. Approximate age of a female at first spawning is 15 years in the St. John River, 11 years in the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, ranges from 7 to 14 years in the South Carolina rivers, and 6 years or less in the Altahama River in Georgia. Generally, females spawn every three years, although males may spawn every year.


Shortnose sturgeon inhabit rivers and estuaries. They are "anadromous" fish; they spawn in the coastal rivers along the east coast of North America from the St. John River in Canada to the St. Johns River in Florida. They prefer the nearshore marine, estuarine, and riverine habitat of large river systems. Shortnose sturgeon, unlike other anadromous species in the region such as shad or salmon, do not appear to make long distance offshore migrations. They are "benthic" feeders, eating crustaceans, mollusks, and insects.


The shortnose sturgeon is anadromous, living mainly in the slower moving riverine waters or nearshore marine waters, and migrating periodically into faster moving fresh water areas to spawn.

One partially landlocked population is known in the Holyoke Pool, Connecticut River, and another landlocked group may exist in Lake Marion on the Santee River in South Carolina.

Shortnose sturgeon occur in most major river systems along the U.S. eastern seaboard.

In the southern portion of the range, they are found in the:

Data are lacking for the rivers of North Carolina.

In the northern portion of the range, shortnose sturgeon are found in:

They have also been documented occasionally in some of the other rivers along the Maine coastline, which may be a result of increased coastal movements between the larger rivers in Maine and Massachusetts, including:

Population Trends

No estimate of the historical population size of shortnose sturgeon is available. While the shortnose sturgeon was rarely the target of a commercial fishery, it often was taken incidentally in the commercial fishery for Atlantic sturgeon. In the 1950s, sturgeon fisheries declined on the east coast, which resulted in a lack of records of shortnose sturgeon. This led the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conclude that the fish had been eliminated from the rivers in its historic range (except the Hudson River) and was in danger of extinction because of pollution and overfishing, both directly and incidentally.



Conservation Efforts

Placing the species on the endangered species list resulted in a great deal of research on the species in the northern river systems. NMFS published a recovery plan in December 1998 outlining actions that need to be taken to recover the species.

Regulatory Overview

The shortnose sturgeon was listed as endangered throughout its range on March 11, 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 (a predecessor to the Endangered Species Act of 1973). NMFS later assumed jurisdiction for shortnose sturgeon under a 1974 government reorganization plan (38 FR 41370).


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyes
Order: Acipenseriformes
Family: Acipenseridae
Genus: Acipenser
Species: brevirostrum

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)
Title Federal Register Date
12-month "not warranted" finding on petition to identify and delist shortnose sturgeon in the Saint John River 80 FR 65183 10/26/2015
90-Day Finding on Petition to Identify and Delist Saint John River population 80 FR 18347 04/06/2015
Petition to Identify New Brunswick, Canada, Saint John River Shortnose Sturgeon as a DPS and Delist under the ESA n/a 09/2014
Biological Assessment n/a 11/2010
Recovery Plan 63 FR 69613 12/17/1998
ESA Listing Rule 32 FR 4001 03/11/1967

More Information

Updated: October 26, 2015