Acipenser oxyrinchus

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA ACTINOPTERYGII ACIPENSERIFORMES ACIPENSERIDAE

Scientific Name: Acipenser oxyrinchus
Species Authority: Mitchill, 1815
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Gulf Sturgeon
Taxonomic Notes: The specific name is often misspelled as oxyrhynchus.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2006
Date Assessed: 2006-01-31
Assessor(s): St. Pierre, R. & Parauka, F.M. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
Reviewer(s): St. Pierre, R. & Pourkazemi, M. (Sturgeon Red List Authority)
Justification:
A. oxyrinchus occurs in the Atlantic coastal waters of Canada and the United States with spawning rivers in both countries. A. o. oxyrinchus historically ranged along the Canadian and U.S. Atlantic Coast from Labrador to Florida. Though Atlantic sturgeon populations are currently depressed from historic levels, breeding populations still exist in at least 14 Atlantic Coast rivers in the U. S. (Maine to Georgia) and several more in Canada (St. Lawrence, St. John). A. o. desotoi occurs in most major river systems from the Mississippi River to the Suwannee River in Florida and in marine waters of the Central and Eastern Gulf of Mexico south to Florida Bay.

As flesh and roe (caviar) gained popularity in North American, the species was heavily exploited, particularly during several decades of the late nineteenth century. Severe over-fishing of mature sturgeon in the U.S. led to a crash of the A. o. oxyrinchus stocks and harvest was reduced by over 90% by the early 1900s and 99% by the 1920s. All U.S. Atlantic sturgeon fisheries have been closed since 1997, although Canada maintains active commercial fisheries in the St. Lawrence River and in the Saint John River. The current number of mature individuals most likely numbers considerably more than 10,000. Area of occupancy for this subspecies is very large (>1,500 river km spread over 3,000 km of coastline). Substantial subpopulation mixing may occur, particularly as sub-adults, and re-colonization of seriously depleted stocks may occur from adjacent healthy populations. Throughout the 20th century, sturgeon breeding habitats have been adversely impacted by dams, siltation, channel maintenance (dredging) and water pollution. Although habitat and water quality concerns still occur in several locations, the vast majority of formerly occupied habitats remain available to this species. The subspecies is assessed as Near Threatened based on past population declines and because of uncertainties about overall stock health and the lengthy time required for population recovery.

Records for A. o. desotoi fisheries during the period 1887–1985 indicated that peak Florida harvest occurred in 1900–1902 (124 mt/year) followed by precipitous decline into the 1920s. From 1923–1971 harvest was fairly stable at about 7 mt per year; declined to 2.3 mt through the 1970s; and fell further to only 0.3 mt until fisheries were closed in 1986 (Barkuloo 1988). A. o. desotoi continues to be threatened by habitat disturbances such as dam construction, dredging, dredge spoil disposal, groundwater extraction, irrigation and other surface water withdrawals, and flow alterations. Contaminants, primarily from industrial sources, also contribute adversely to individual fish health and population declines. With a relatively small and widely scattered population, continued habitat disturbances and contaminant threats, A. o. desotoi is assessed as Vulnerable.

Overall, the Atlantic sturgeon A. oxyrinchus is considered Near Threatened based on the population declines suffered in the past and uncertainties about overall health of the population and the lengthy time required for recovery.
History:
1990 Vulnerable (IUCN 1990)
1988 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:A. oxyrinchus occurs in the Atlantic coastal waters of Canada and the United States with spawning rivers in both countries.

A. o. oxyrinchus historically ranged along the Canadian and U.S. Atlantic Coast from Labrador to Florida. Though Atlantic sturgeon populations are currently depressed from historic levels, breeding populations still exist in at least 14 Atlantic Coast rivers in the U. S. (Maine to Georgia) and several more in Canada (St. Lawrence, St. John).

A. o. desotoi occurs in most major river systems from the Mississippi River to the Suwannee River in Florida and in marine waters of the Central and Eastern Gulf of Mexico south to Florida Bay. Though the subspecies was previously listed as also occurring in Mexico, a review of the literature fails to support that contention. A single "sturgeon" was reported seen (but not captured) in the Rio Grande River which separates Texas and Mexico. The Gulf sturgeon’s current area of occupancy is spread over 2,500+ river km and 1,500+ km of coastline. However, construction of dams, sills and other water control structures throughout the 20th century severely restricted inland migrations of Gulf sturgeon in many waterways from St. Andrew Bay to the Bogue Chitto River.

For more information see NatureServe’s Explorer database.
Countries:
Native:
Canada (New Brunswick, Newfoundland I, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward I., Québec); United States (Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Native:
Atlantic – northwest; Atlantic – western central
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Atlantic sturgeon were an important item of commerce to early American and Canadian colonists and large quantities of meat, roe, oil and isinglass were exported to Europe late 17th and 18th centuries. As flesh and roe (caviar) gained popularity in North American, the species was heavily exploited, particularly during several decades of the late nineteenth century. The largest fishery was in the Delaware River and Bay which by 1890 supported over 1,000 fishermen and produced 2,300 metric tons of sturgeon product. Several dozen other rivers supported sturgeon fisheries and by the late 1890s, total Atlantic Coast U.S. landings reached 3,200 mt. Severe over-fishing of mature sturgeon in the U.S. led to a crash of the stocks and harvest was reduced by over 90% by the early 1900s and 99% by the 1920s. Throughout the 1970s to mid-1980s, prior to declaration of fishing moratoria, annual U.S. harvest of Atlantic sturgeon ranged from 50–100 mt with most fish being taken from the Hudson River (NY), coastal New Jersey and the Carolinas (ASMFC 1990).

In 1998, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) completed a comprehensive "Status Review of Atlantic Sturgeon" in response to a petition to list this species as threatened or endangered under the U. S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). The assessment found that, though Atlantic sturgeon populations are currently depressed from historic levels, breeding populations still exist in at least 14 Atlantic Coast rivers in the U. S. (Maine to Georgia) and several more in Canada (St. Lawrence, St. John). The number of mature individuals in this range-wide population was not estimated but most likely it numbers considerably more than 10,000. Area of occupancy is very large (> 1,500 river km spread over 3,000 km of coastline). Substantial subpopulation mixing may occur, particularly as sub-adults, and recolonization of seriously depleted stocks may occur from adjacent healthy populations.

A. o. desotoi population estimates have been completed for the Apalachicola, Suwannee, Yellow and Choctawhatchee rivers in Florida, Pascagoula River in Mississippi, and the Pearl and Bogue Chitto rivers in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Suwannee River supports the most viable subpopulation among coastal rivers of the Gulf of Mexico and was estimated at 7,650 individuals older than age two (Sulak and Clugston 1999). The subpopulation estimate for Gulf sturgeon older than age two in the Choctawhatchee River ranges from 1,700–3,000 fish, while subpopulation estimates in the Apalachicola, Pascagoula and Pearl rivers range from 50–350 fish (Lorio 2000). The number of mature individuals in this range wide population were not estimated but most likely number less than 10,000. Eggs and larvae of Gulf sturgeon have been collected in the Bouie, Escambia/Conecuh, Choctawatchee, Apalachicola and Suwanee rivers (Critical Habitat Ruling).

Stabile et al. (1996) analyzed A. o. desotoi subpopulations from eight drainages along the Gulf of Mexico for genetic diversity. They noted significant differences among Gulf sturgeon stocks and suggested they displayed region-specific affinities and may exhibit river-specific fidelity. These authors identified five regional or river-specific stocks: (1) Lake Ponchartrain and Pearl River; (2) Pascagoula River; (3) Escambia and Yellow rivers; (4) Choctawhatchee River; and (5) Apalachicola, Ochlockonee, and Suwannee rivers.
Population Trend: Increasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The Atlantic sturgeon is a large anadromous species. A. o. oxyrinchus is recorded to live for up to 60 years and reach a size of 4.3 m and 368 kg (Vladykov and Greely 1963), though most mature fish are considerably smaller. Spawning occurs in fresh or slightly brackish water when water temperatures reached 13–18˚C. Migrations into coastal tidal rivers begin as early as February in the southern portion of the range and continue through June and July in northernmost waters. In the mid-Atlantic area, Atlantic sturgeon males mature at 6–10 years and females at 10–20 years (ASMFC 1990). Maturation occurs earlier in southern waters and later in Canada. Spawning periodicity ranges from 2–6 years. Based on tagging studies ocean migrations of up to 1,450 km have been recorded (Dovel and Berggren 1983).
Systems: Freshwater; Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Atlantic sturgeon were an important item of commerce to early American and Canadian colonists and large quantities of meat, roe, oil and isinglass were exported to Europe late 17th and 18th centuries. As flesh and roe (caviar) gained popularity in North American, the species was heavily exploited, particularly during several decades of the late nineteenth century.

Competition, predation, diseases and parasites were evaluated in the 1998 status review by USFWS-NMFS and determined not to be limiting factors for Atlantic sturgeon stocks. Throughout the 20th century, sturgeon breeding habitats have been adversely impacted by dams, siltation, channel maintenance (dredging) and water pollution. Although habitat and water quality concerns still occur in several locations, the vast majority of formerly occupied habitats remain available to this species. Continued application of existing U.S. laws (e.g., Clean Water Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, etc.) should result in improvements sturgeon breeding and nursery habitats. With management measures in place the current population trend for Atlantic sturgeon is increasing.

A. o. desotoi continues to be threatened by habitat disturbances such as dam construction, dredging, dredge spoil disposal, groundwater extraction, irrigation and other surface water withdrawals, and flow alterations. Contaminants, primarily from industrial sources, also contribute adversely to individual fish health and population declines. Tissue and egg samples of Gulf sturgeon have shown elevated levels of pesticides and heavy metals. Organochlorines such as DDT and its derivatives DDD and/or DDE and toxaphene appear in most samples, sometime in concentrations exceeding U.S. Federal Drug Administration action levels for human consumption. High concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and aliphatic hydrocarbons (both from petroleum products) were detected in most Gulf sturgeon samples from numerous Florida rivers. Arsenic and mercury were detected in 92% and 87% of sturgeon samples and cadmium occurred in 42% of samples (Bateman and Brim 1994).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: All U.S. Atlantic sturgeon fisheries have been closed since 1997. Canada maintains active commercial fisheries in the St. Lawrence River (Quebec) for subadults of A. o. oxyrinchus, and in the Saint John River (New Brunswick) for larger fish. Also, a single fisherman is licensed on the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia. The St. Lawrence fishery was limited in 1997 to a quota of 6,015 fish - about 60 tons (Caron and Trembly 1997). Other regulations here include a maximum size limit of 1.5 m during a season extending from 1 May to 30 September.

Peak landings on the Saint John River were 44 metric tones (mt) in 1988 but have declined in recent years to 10–14 mt. Only nine licensed fishermen remained in the St. John fishery in 1997. They were authorized to fish no more than 2,800 m of gill net with minimum mesh size of 33 cm. Minimum allowable size of sturgeon on the St. John is 120 cm and the season is closed during 1–30 June to protect spawners. Canadian authorities have expressed to U.S. authorities that these harvest levels are sustainable and do not damage the stocks (USFWS and NMFS 1998). A private aquaculture activity also occurs in New Brunswick with eggs and progeny produced from wild-caught adult sturgeon. Except for a few hundred live juveniles, most international trade in A. o. oxyrinchus in the late 1990s has been meat (2–34 mt/year) from Canada to the U.S. (CITES data).

No commercial or sport fishing for Atlantic sturgeon is allowed in territorial waters of the U.S. Atlantic Coast. The management authority for this species is the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and their amendment to the 1990 Fishery Management Plan (ASMFC 1998) requires (1) no possession allowed in the 15 Atlantic states until at least 20 year-classes reach breeding age (30–40 years); (2) annual reporting of by-catch and by-catch mortality; (3) urges habitat monitoring and improvements as well as research and genetics analysis; and (4) places certain restrictions on sturgeon culture for market production and restocking. In addition to the ASMFC action, the Secretary of Commerce has closed all U.S. Atlantic coastal EEZ waters to harvest of Atlantic sturgeon.

The recent USFWS-NMFS joint status review for Atlantic sturgeon determined that listing this species as threatened or endangered under the U.S. ESA is not warranted at this time. Atlantic sturgeon are widespread and several subpopulations could be considered relatively abundant. However, because of uncertainties about overall stock health and the lengthy time required for population recovery, USFWS has designated Atlantic sturgeon as a "candidate species" for possible future ESA listing and NMFS lists it as a "species of concern".

In 1991, A. o. desotoi was listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since then considerable work has been accomplished to better define life history and behavior and to determine habitats important to each life stage, population status, genetic assessment and fish culture. A recovery and management plan for Gulf sturgeon was completed in 1995 (USFWS and GSMFC 1995). This plan identifies state and federal actions necessary to rebuild populations to levels that would allow de-listing of the subspecies. In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service officially designated "critical habitat" for this species, including 2,783 river kilometers and 6,042 square km of estuarine and marine habitat.

With federal protection under the ESA and intensive permitting and consultation requirements for all water-related projects and discharges - especially in areas designated to be critical habitat - it is believed that A. o. desotoi population declines will be halted and reversed.

This species is listed on CITES Appendix II.

Bibliography [top]

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. 1990. Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Sturgeon. Fisheries Management Report No. 17, November 1990. ASMFC, Washington, D.C. 73 p.

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. 1998. Amendment No. 1 to the ASMFC Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Sturgeon. Approved by the Sturgeon Mgmt. Board, Washington, DC

Baillie, J. and Groombridge, B. (eds). 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. pp. 378. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

Barkuloo, J.M. 1988. Report on the conservation status of the Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrhynchus desotoi. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Panama City, FL. 33 p.

Bateman, D.H. and Brim, M.S. 1994. Environmental contaminants in Gulf sturgeon of Northwest Florida 1985-1991. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Publication. PCFO-EC 94-09. Panama City, FL. 23 p

Caron, F. and Trembly, S. 1997. Structure and management of an exploited population of Atlantic sturgeon in the St. Lawrence Estuary, Quebec, Canada. Ministere de l’Environnement et de la Faune.

Dovel, W.L. and Berggstrom, T.J. 1983. Atlantic sturgeon of the Hudson River Estuary, New York. New York Fish and Game Journal 30(2): 140-172.

IUCN. 1990. IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 04 May 2006.

IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre. 1986. 1986 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre. 1988. 1988 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

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.

Stabile, J., Waldman, J.R., Parauka, F. and Wirgin, I. 1996. Stock structure and homing fidelity in Gulf of Mexico sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) based on restriction fragment length polymorphism and sequences analysis of mitochondrial DNA. Genetics 144: 767-775.

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.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. 1995. Gulf sturgeon recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, Atlanta.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (USFWS-NMFS). 1998. Status review of Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus). Special report submitted in response to a petition to list the species under the Endangered Species Act. Hadley and Gloucester, MA, September 1998.

Vladykov, V.D. and Greely, J.R. 1963. Order Acipenseroidei. In: Fishes of the Western North Atlantic. Sears Foundation. Marine Research, Yale University, New Haven, CT. 1(3). 630p


Citation: St. Pierre, R. & Parauka, F.M. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) 2006. Acipenser oxyrinchus. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 25 October 2014.
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