Fish and Aquatic Conservation

illustration of an Atlantic sturgeon

Atlantic sturgeon

Acipenser oxyrinchus, (Mitchell 1815)

Cool Facts

Atlantic Sturgeon are a long lived species and can reach an age of 60 years. There used to be stocks of Atlantic sturgeon in Europe and in the Baltic Sea. There were also landlocked populations of Atlantic sturgeon in Lake Ladoga and Onega in Russia. Unfortunately, all of these populations are now extinct due to poaching and overfishing. The International trade of Atlantic sturgeon is now restricted under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

SIZE: Atlantic sturgeon have been known to reach up to 800 lbs. or 370 kg and have been measured up to 14 ft. or 4.3 meters in length.

RANGE: Atlantic sturgeon are currently present in 32 of the 38 historical rivers known to have sturgeon populations along the Atlantic coast of the United States. They have also been known to exist in northern Canadian rivers in Labrador and Newfoundland and also in the Northern Gulf of Mexico in Bermuda and French Guiana.

HABITAT: They can occur in small groups or swim alone. They inhabit the shallow waters of the continental shelf down to a depth of 50m and also coastal brackish waters. They enter large river systems to spawn.

DIET: Atlantic sturgeon eat crustaceans, worms and mollusks.

Natural History

Atlantic Sturgeon are an anadromous fish species that are also multiple spawners. This species can inhabit marine, brackish fresh waters. As adults, Atlantic sturgeon will migrate along the Atlantic coast. These fish will then begin to ascend the lower reaches of large rivers in the spring to begin their spawning runs. Spawning normally occurs over bedrock, boulders and gravel bottoms. Adult Atlantic sturgeon will then return to the sea after spawning.


commercial overfishing from the 1950’s through the 1990’ is responsible for the wide spread declines in Atlantic sturgeon. As a result of these commercial fishing practices, some distinct populations of Atlantic coast Atlantic sturgeon are already listed under the Endangered Species Act. There are now four distinct population segments listed as endangered and one distinct population segment listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Atlantic Sturgeon along the east coast of the United States are now managed under the Atlantic Sturgeon Fishery Management Plan of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).

In 1998, ASMFC issued a coast-wide moratorium on the harvest of Atlantic sturgeon within state waters. The National Marine Fisheries Service(NOAA Fisheries) followed with a moratorium of harvest of Atlantic sturgeon within the Exclusive Economic Zone (3 mile to 200 mile limit) along the Atlantic coast.

This moratorium on Atlantic coast sturgeon harvest will remain in place until there are at least 20 protected age classes in each spawning stock. The measures within this fishery management plan (FMP) also include provisions to identify critical Atlantic sturgeon habitat.

Migration Behavior

The Atlantic sturgeon is migratory fish. They reproduce in freshwater and will return to the ocean after spawning. These fish migrate up and down the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and will return to the lower ends of large river systems to reproduce.