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Adult Atlantic Sturgeon

Reporting Dead Sturgeon

If you see a dead sturgeon floating or on the shore of the Hudson River, please notify DEC by calling 845-256-3071 (Kathy Hattala) AND 845-256-3073 (Amanda Higgs). We also would like the following information:

  • Specify the location of fish carcass
  • Note the condition of the fish - really rotted or fresh kill
  • Identify any signs of trauma, and if present, where on the fish
  • Estimate the total length of the carcass (measure from nose to tip of upper tail [caudal] fin) or whatever is left of the carcass
  • Describe any external tags found on the fish - usually a yellow streamer at or near the base of the dorsal fin; a second external mark can be a missing left pelvic fin clip
  • Take a picture of the entire fish and any injury; include a picture of the head and mouth to verify the species.

Leave the fish where you found it. Possession of Atlantic sturgeon is prohibited!

Please send information and pictures to the Hudson River Fisheries Unit mailbox (link on the right).

Background

Adult Atlantic caught and tagged in Haverstraw Bay, 2007

Atlantic sturgeon of the Hudson River Estuary have supported some level of subsistence or commercial fishing since colonial times. Reported commercial landings of Atlantic sturgeon are available for New York State from 1880 through 1995. Until about 1980, most of the landings came from the Hudson River. Highest annual landings of the time series (231,000 kg) occurred in 1898. Landings quickly dropped to 15,000 kg or less per year and remained at low levels through the early 1980's. In 1985, South Carolina closed one of the few active fisheries open in the southern states. Market demand remained high and effort and harvest increased substantially in New York and New Jersey. Greatest increase in landings was in the near shore ocean along Long Island and the New Jersey coast.

In 1990, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) adopted an interstate fishery management plan for Atlantic sturgeon. States with open fisheries began to monitor harvest. In addition, New York initiated population modeling to determine acceptable levels of harvest from the Hudson River stock. In 1993 through 1995, New York regulated the Atlantic sturgeon fishery with size limits, seasons, area closures, and as more data became available, it became apparent that the Hudson River stock was being over fished. NY implemented a harvest moratorium in 1996. New Jersey followed with a zero quota in the same year. In 1998, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopted Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Sturgeon. This amendment banned possession of Atlantic sturgeon in all US Atlantic coastal states. It also recommended that states with spawning populations sample adults every five years and identify bycatch losses in state waters.

Sonic tag

Spawning locations of Atlantic sturgeon within the Hudson River Estuary remain poorly delineated. Several authors have investigated spawning activity of Atlantic sturgeon within the estuary, but have drawn differing conclusions about spawning location. We hope to learn more about these locations using the sonic tagged fish.

Juvenile Atlantic sturgeon remain within the estuary between two and eight years. When juveniles begin to emigrate they travel widely along the Atlantic coast and its estuaries. However, the stock identification of these fish is completely unknown. Almost nothing is known regarding the migratory behavior, distribution, habitat needs of mature Atlantic sturgeon after leaving fresh-water systems.

Threats

Although harvest of Atlantic sturgeon from the Hudson River Estuary has ended, threats to stock recovery continue. Within the estuary, habitat disturbance and alteration from navigation dredging and occasional petroleum spills pose potential threats to spawning. The NYSDEC attempts to regulate dredging and provide special protection from spills, but these efforts are hampered by inadequate information on specific timing and location of spawning. Within the ocean, mature Atlantic sturgeon are potentially affected by dredge spoil dumping, and bycatch in existing fisheries. Consequences of these losses to a specific stock such as that from the Hudson are impossible to determine because stock specific ocean migration patterns are completely unknown and thus bycatch losses cannot be assigned to stock.

Adult Capturing and Tagging

Satellite tagged fish

As recommended by ASMFC, we started a project in collaboration with Hudson River Estuary Program, USFWS, Pew Institute, Hudson River Foundation, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The plan was to catch the fish in the lower river and which would allow us to follow them to their spawning areas. We conduct a small scale sampling program each year in the late spring/ early summer.

Objectives

The objective of this study is to track adult Atlantic sturgeon entering the Hudson River in order to locate spawning grounds. Tasks to accomplish include:
(1) capture of prespawning adult Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River estuary;
(2) tagging all unmarked fish, and

2007 tagged sturgeon

(3) attach satellite tags or pop-off archival tags (PAT) to fish to learn more about their seasonal ocean movement

Fish catch numbers
Year # caught # tagged with sonic tags # tagged with PAT tags
2006 44 12 10
2007 25 11 13
2008 105 7 10
2009 53
2010 67

Highlights

2006 - 2010

  • We caught and tagged two fish in Catskill.
  • Two sonic tags were attached externally using a 400 lb. monofilament loop.
  • Using a new technique in 2007, we were able to intercept fish in Haverstraw Bay.
  • We discovered a new possible spawning area near Diamond Reef.
  • One recapture was from a male fish tagged as a juvenile and had returned to spawn as an adult 11 years later.
  • By continuing the sampling in 2009 and 2010 we are collecting more data on how often fish return to spawn.
  • Data collected by the PAT tag is revealing that Hudson Atlantic sturgeon use the entire Atlantic coast from the Bay of Fundy to Georgia.
Lifting large female into boat
Photo courtesy of Daniel Erickson

The sonic tag batteries will function until 2013. We are starting to see habitat usage trends from the four years of data we have in house and will continue to track the adult Atlantic sturgeon while the batteries are working.

Hudson River Estuary Program logo

This logo represents the Hudson River Estuary Program and our efforts to protect this important estuary.


More about Adult Atlantic Sturgeon: