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Atlantic Sturgeon in the Hudson River Region

Long-Term Monitoring Programs

Atlantic sturgeon stock abundances have been severely depleted over the last 200 years due to overfishing, bycatch, and habitat loss and alteration. In 1998, a coast-wide moratorium on harvest was implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to avoid further stock reductions and to promote species recovery. As a result of the fishery closure, fishery-dependent data are no longer available to track population trends over time. Fisheries-independent surveys and research projects are now the main sources of data and are used to evaluate the effects of the moratorium and to better understand the ecology of this federally endangered species.

Juvenile Atlantic Sturgeon Monitoring

Watch a short video about Atlantic Sturgeon Monitoring and check out other clips on DEC's YouTube Channel.

In 2003-2005, the NYSDEC and USFWS developed a survey to monitor the abundance of juvenile Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River. In 2006, the NYSDEC fully implemented the survey becoming one of the first surveys to establish relative abundance estimates of juvenile Atlantic sturgeon following recovery recommendations set forth by Amendment 1 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic sturgeon. Since monitoring began, there has been a significant increase in the relative abundance of juvenile Atlantic sturgeon. The average catch rate in recent years is two times higher than that observed during the start of the survey when the effects of the moratorium would not yet be fully realized due to the long maturation schedule of sturgeon. These trends suggest the Hudson River stock may be recovering in response to the moratorium.

Adult Atlantic Sturgeon Monitoring

Hudson River Fisheries Unit staff lifting an Atlantic sturgeon into the boat

To learn more about size and sex composition of the spawning stock, the NYSDEC annually (2006-present) samples adult Atlantic sturgeon at a spawning area near Hyde Park. Fish are collected with large mesh anchored gill nets and length, weight, and sex data are recorded. The survey predominately collects males, whereas, females are collected more sporadically as they tend to remain separate from the males and they are much more elusive to catch.

Additional Research

Receiver Array Maintenance

In cooperation with other researchers along the coast, the NYSDEC maintains a network of receivers throughout the Hudson River. The receivers detect acoustically tagged fishes that have been tagged in the Hudson River as well as fishes tagged along the Atlantic coast. The NYSDEC provides data collected from these receivers to organizations such as The Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network (leaves DEC's website). Data sharing among different networks of receivers maintained by various researchers and managers throughout the Atlantic coast provides a greater understanding of migration patterns and population dynamics for highly migratory species such as Atlantic sturgeon.

Side-scan sonar and acoustic telemetry

An Atlantic sturgeon equipped with a sonic tag and USFWS dart tag

Quantifying the size of the spawning run is critical for understanding population dynamics and to track stock recovery. However, traditional approaches to estimate abundance are difficult for Atlantic sturgeon given their life history (e.g. long-distance migrations, spawning periodicity). In collaboration with other researchers, we used side-scan sonar and acoustic telemetry to estimate the spawning run of Atlantic sturgeon (leaves DEC's website). Our estimate suggests that the Hudson River holds one of the largest contemporary populations of Atlantic sturgeon, yet the population remains severely depleted relative to virgin conditions.

We are also using new and existing data from acoustically tagged adult Atlantic sturgeon to develop new, innovative data techniques to quantify and understand movement of tagged fish within the Hudson River. Benthic habitat maps developed for the Hudson River will be used to quantify and predict habitat use.