After a century of abuse, the Atlantic Sturgeon has arrived on federal endangered species protection lists.
Once in abundance along the eastern seaboard, and locally, in the Delaware River and the Delaware Bay, the seldom seen Sturgeon have become scarce enough to earn an air of myth. The National Marine Fisheries Service estimate that, before the year 1890, some 180,000 adult females were spawning along the Delaware river, driving a very profitable fish and caviar industry. Today, they estimate some 300 remain.
It is worth noting that the Atlantic sturgeon is not just any fish; not always a delicate species with such a harsh response to it’s environment and treatment. Sturgeon can live up to 60 years, have been recorded at greater than 15 feet, can weigh hundreds of pounds, and scientists consider them the most primitive of the bony fishes, with remarkably close relations to those that swam with the dinosaurs. Although it has been illegal to fish for, catch or keep Atlantic sturgeon for more than a decade in most watersheds, recovery remains absent.
“The most significant threats to the species are unintended catch of Atlantic sturgeon in some fisheries; dams that block access to spawning areas, poor water quality, which harms development of sturgeon larvae and juveniles; dredging of historical spawning areas; and vessel strikes. As a result, NOAA Fisheries determined that listing sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.” – NOAA
Most of the coverage I’ve read locally focused heavily on the fact that this endangered species designation could disrupt plans to further dredge the Delaware River, a $240 million dollar project that aims to increase the depth of the river by five feet. Dredging, historically, has caused damage to environmentally important resources, and will do so again if allowed to operate in this key spawning area of the Sturgeon. It remains to be seen if this project will make it’s way into the budget and become a reality.