Shortnose Sturgeon Fact Sheet
New York Status: Endangered
The shortnose sturgeon is the smallest of New York's sturgeons, rarely exceeding 3.5 feet in length and 14 pounds in weight. It has a short, conical snout with four barbels in front of its large underslung mouth. Five rows of bony plates (called scutes) occur along its body: one on the back, two on the belly, and one on each side. The body coloration is generally olive-yellow to gray or bluish on the back, and milky-white to dark yellow on the belly. The peritoneum (body cavity lining) is black.
The shortnose sturgeon's life history is complex. Much of its spawning behavior and early life stages are still not fully understood. The shortnose sturgeon is anadramous, migrating from salt water to spawn in freshwater. In the Hudson River, it spawns from April-May. Adult sturgeon migrate upriver from their mid-Hudson overwintering areas to freshwater spawning sites north of Coxsackie.
Unlike most fish species, spawning is not a yearly event for most shortnose sturgeon. Males spawn every other year and females every third year. Females lay between 40,000-200,000 eggs which hatch in approximately 13 days.
Newly-hatched fry are poor swimmers and drift with the currents along the bottom. As they grow and mature, the fish move downriver into the most brackish parts of the lower Hudson.
Shortnose sturgeon are long-lived. The oldest known female reached 67 years of age and the oldest known male was 32.
Bottom feeders, shortnose sturgeon eat a variety of organisms. Using their barbels to locate food and their extendable mouths to then vacuum it up, they eat sludge worms, aquatic insect larvae, plants, snails, shrimp, and crayfish.
Distribution and Habitat
The shortnose sturgeon is restricted in range to the Atlantic seaboard in North America. It occurs from the Saint John's River in New Brunswick to the Saint John River in Florida.
In New York State, the shortnose sturgeon is only found in the lower portion of the Hudson River from the southern tip of Manhattan (river mile 0) upriver to the Federal dam at Troy (river mile 152).
A combination of factors can be blamed for declines in shortnose sturgeon populations. During the 1800s and early 1900s, large tidal rivers, such as the Hudson, served as dumping grounds for pollutants that lead to major oxygen depletions and resulting high fish losses. At the same time, great demands for sturgeon eggs (caviar) and the fish's smoked flesh resulted in overexploitation of sturgeon stocks. In addition, damming of the Hudson for hydroelectric and navigation purposes cut sturgeon off from their upriver spawning grounds. Maintenance dredging of the Hudson's navigation channel and trapping of sturgeon eggs and larvae in turbines of electric generating plants are also considered problems for the Hudson River shortnose sturgeon stock. Riverwide population estimates in the 1990's showed the spawning population had increased substantially from that observed in the 1970's.
Officially listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service as endangered, the shortnose sturgeon is fully protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It is unlawful to kill or posses this fish. This action, combined with ongoing water quality and habitat protection efforts, offer a bright future for New York's shortnose sturgeon populations. No additional management actions are considered necessary at this time.