Sturgeon appearance today is almost the same as when dinosaurs walked the earth during the Triassic period, 245 to 208 million years ago. They are among the oldest living fish species.
In New York, this sturgeon is found only in the Hudson River, where it moves seasonally from New York Harbor to the Troy Dam. Only one extant and one historical spawning area are known.
The shortnose sturgeon population appears to be on the rebound after suffering population declines starting sometime during the late-1800s and early 1900s. During the early part of the 20th century, the Hudson River served as dumping grounds for many pollutants. Also, sturgeon eggs (caviar) were in high demand. Damming of the Hudson River at Troy cut off access to some of the traditional spawning grounds for this species. More recently, shortnose sturgeon populations have been increasing. In 1998, Cornell University researchers estimated a population of about 38,000 adults (Carlson 1998). The population appears to be stable at this time.
Although probably not threatened at current population levels, this species remains vulnerable due to low reproductive rates, the potential for significant by-catch during Atlantic sturgeon harvest (this fishery is currently closed), the introduction of exotic fish and invertebrates to the Hudson River, and the potential for new pollution problems (Carlson 1998). Three other potential threats are maintenance dredging of the navigation channel of the Hudson River during river migration, commercial navigation, and capture against screens at power plant intakes.
In New York State, shortnose sturgeon inhabit the Hudson River estuary. These fishes reportedly prefer deep pools with soft substrates and vegetated bottoms, but individuals may vary in preference for various water depths and substrate types (Seibel 1991 cited in NatureServe 2003). Adults have separate summer and winter areas, moving upstream and downstream with the seasons. Spawning occurs upriver from summer foraging and nursery grounds. Spawning occurs over rubble substrate with some gravel and large rocks (Carlson 2003). Larvae may drift with the current near the river bottom. In the Hudson River, larvae are generally found between Albany and Poughkeepsie. Juveniles remain in the river near the salt front. Older individuals spend time in the lower estuary or possibly go out to sea (Carlson 1986).
Shortnose sturgeon are restricted to the Hudson River between New York City and the Troy dam. Historically, this species occurred north to Cohoes Falls at the mouth of the Mohawk River (Carlson 1998).
The shortnose sturgeon is found on the Atlantic Coast of North America where its range extends from the Saint John River, New Brunswick to the St. Johns River, Florida. The federal recovery plan (NMFS 1998) for the species identifies 19 distinct population segments, each defined as a river/estuarine system in which shortnose sturgeons have been captured in the generation time of the species (30 years). The population segments recognized by the recovery plan are: Saint John, Penobscot, Kennebec System (Sheepscot, Kennebec, and Androscoggin Rivers), Merrimack, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Chesapeake (Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River), Cape Fear, Winyah Bay (Waccamaw, Pee Dee, and Black Rivers), Santee (Santee River and Lake Marion), Cooper, ACE Basin (Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers), Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla, St. Marys, and St. Johns. As of the late 1980s, the largest concentrations were in the Saint John River (New Brunswick); Kennebec River (Maine); Hudson River (New York); Delaware River (New Jersey); Winyah Bay, Pee Dee River, and Lake Marion (South Carolina); and the Altamaha River (Georgia). The species recently reappeared in the lower Susquehanna River drainage of the upper Chesapeake Bay basin (possibly from the Delaware River via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal) (see Burkhead and Jenkins 1991). Populations may be semidisjunct (Carter 1989). See Stone et al. (1994) for information on distribution and relative abundance in mid-Atlantic estuaries.
The shortnose sturgeon is the smallest of the three sturgeon species found in New York State, rarely exceeding 3.5 feet in length and 14 pounds in weight. It is a primitive-looking fish with an elongated body and a hecterocercal tail (upper lobe much longer than the lower lobe). It has a short, conical snout with four large, fleshy barbels. There are five rows of bony plates, known as scutes: one dorsal (back), two lateral (sides), and 2 ventral (under part). The body coloration is olive-yellow to gray or bluish on the back and milky-white to dark yellow ventrally. The scutes are lighter in color than the main body. Like lake sturgeons, shortnose sturgeons have a wide mouth; the inside of the gape is approximately 65% of the distance between the eyes (Smith 1985).
Most activity of larvae, juveniles, and adults appears to occur at night (Richmond and Kynard 1995). It is not certain if they are active all year or inactive during the winter.
Shortnose sturgeon are bottom-feeders and are known to feed off of plant surfaces. Juveniles eat available benthic crustaceans and insects. In the Hudson River estuary, the main diet of juveniles are midge larvae and amphipods. Adults in freshwater eat mollusks, crustaceans, and insect larvae, depending on availability. In estuaries, polychaete worms, crustaceans, and mollusks are the primary foods for adults. Zebra mussel remains have been found in feces of individuals from the Hudson River (Cornell University 1993).
In late May and June adult shortnose sturgeon in the Hudson River move downriver between Haverstraw Bay and Yonkers. The shortnose sturgeon congregate between Hyde Park and Kingston from October through March, then move north in the spring to spawn. Young-of-the-year move south to Haverstraw Bay by October.
The time of year you would expect to find Shortnose Sturgeon active and reproducing in New York.
Acipenser brevirostrum LeSueur, 1818
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Carlson, Douglas. 2003. E-mail of January 15, 2003 to Hollie Shaw.
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Information for this guide was last updated on: March 21, 2019
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Acipenser brevirostrum. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/shortnose-sturgeon/. Accessed September 24, 2021.