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Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)

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


shortnose sturgeon in water
Shortnose sturgeon
(Acipenser brevirostrum)
Photo: Nancy Haley, NOAA


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

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

 

 

Species Description
Weight: up to 50 pounds (23 kg)
Length: up to 4.5 feet (1.4 m)
Appearance:  bony plates called "scutes" along their back
Lifespan: average 30 years, but can live up to 67 years
Diet: adults: mollusks and large crustaceans
juveniles: benthic insects and small crustaceans
Behavior: 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 and, for some species, into 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.

Habitat
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.

Distribution
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 eastern seaboard of the United States.

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

  • St. Johns River in Florida
  • Altamaha, Ogeechee, and Savannah Rivers in Georgia
  • in South Carolina river systems that empty into Winyah Bay and the Santee/ Cooper River complex that forms Lake Marion.

Data are lacking for the rivers of North Carolina.

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

  • Chesapeake Bay system
  • Delaware River
  • Hudson River in New York
  • Connecticut River
  • lower Merrimack River in Massachusetts
  • Piscataqua River in New Hampshire
  • Kennebec River system, which includes the Androscoggin and Sheepscot Rivers, in Maine
  • Penobscot River in Maine
  • St. John River in New Brunswick, Canada

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:

  • Saco River
  • St. George River
  • Damariscotta River
  • Medomak River
  • Passasagasawakeag River

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.

 
atlantic sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon
Atlantic sturgeon (top) and Shortnose sturgeon (bottom)
(Acipenser oxyrinchus and Acipenser brevirostrum)
Photo: Doug Cooke,
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources


Threats

  • construction of dams, mainly during the period of industrial growth (late 1800s-early 1900s) may have resulted in substantial loss of suitable habitat
  • pollution of many large northeastern river systems
  • habitat alterations from discharges
  • dredging or disposal of material into rivers
  • related development activities involving estuarine/ riverine mudflats and marshes

Historically:

  • commercial exploitation, which occurred throughout its range from Colonial times until the 1950s

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 in order 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).

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date
Biological Assessment   11/2010
Recovery Plan 63 FR 69613 12/17/1998
ESA Listing Rule 32 FR 4001 03/11/1967

More Information

Updated: March 28, 2014

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