Shortnose Sturgeon

Shortnose Sturgeon

Class
Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
Family
Acipenseridae (Sturgeons)
State Protection
Endangered
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Endangered
Listed as Endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act
State Conservation Status Rank
S1
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
G3
Vulnerable globally - At moderate risk of extinction due to rarity or other factors; typically 80 or fewer populations or locations in the world, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines.

Summary

Did you know?

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.

State Ranking Justification

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.

Short-term Trends

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.

Conservation and Management

Threats

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.

Habitat

Habitat

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).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Freshwater tidal creek (guide)
    The aquatic community of a shallow, tidally flooded freshwater creek with submerged areas averaging less than 2 m (6 ft) deep at low tide.
  • Saltwater tidal creek (guide)
    The aquatic community of a shallow, tidally flooded saltwater or brackish creek with submerged areas averaging less than 2 m (6 ft) deep at low tide.
  • Tidal river (guide)
    The aquatic community of a river under the influence of daily lunar tides. We restrict this community to the continuously flooded portions of the river where plants do not grow out of the water. A deepwater zone has depths averaging more than 2 m (6 ft) at low tide. Salinities at any one place in the river may fluctuate as the tides flow in and out.

Range

New York State Distribution

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).

Global Distribution

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.

Best Places to See

  • Hudson River near Green Island

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

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).

Behavior

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.

Diet

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).

Best Time to See

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.

  • Active
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Shortnose Sturgeon active and reproducing in New York.

Similar Species

  • Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)
    The lake sturgeon has the anal fin origin behind the dorsal fin origin, has a longer caudal peduncle, scutes on back and sides the same color as the skin, 25-30 anal rays, usually 32-35 gill rakers, and 29-42 scutes along each side (22-33 in shortnose).
  • Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) (guide)
    The Atlantic sturgeon has a long, sharply V-shaped snout, two rows of preanal scutes (one row in shortnose), and white viscera. Atlantic sturgeon are larger than shortnose sturgeon.

Shortnose Sturgeon Images

Taxonomy

Shortnose Sturgeon
Acipenser brevirostrum LeSueur, 1818

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Actinopterygii (Ray-finned Fishes)
        • Order Acipenseriformes (Paddlefishes, Spoonfishes, and Sturgeons)
          • Family Acipenseridae (Sturgeons)

Additional Resources

References

Binkowski, F. P., and S. I. Doroshov (editors). 1985. North American Sturgeons: Biology and Aquaculture Potential. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands. 163 pp.

Burkhead, N. M., and R. E. Jenkins. 1991. Fishes. Pages 321-409 in K. Terwilliger (coordinator). Virginia's Endangered Species: Proceedings of a Symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Carlson, D. M., and K. W. Simpson. 1987. Gut contents of juvenile shortnose sturgeon in the upper Hudson estuary. Copeia 1987:796-802.

Carlson, Douglas M. 1998. Species Accounts for the rare fishes of New York. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources. Bureau of Fisheries, Endangered Fish Project. 95pp.

Carlson, Douglas. 1986. A review of population characteristics of the shortnose sturgeon in the Hudson River. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Stamford, NY.

Carlson, Douglas. 1998. Summary of activities relating to management of ETs Fishes (as listed in 1983) from 1995 to present. 5pp.

Carlson, Douglas. 2003. E-mail of January 15, 2003 to Hollie Shaw.

Collins, M. R., S. G. Rogers, and T. I. J. Smith. 1996. Bycatch of sturgeons along the southern Atlantic coast of the USA. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 16:24-29.

Cornell Unvirsity. 1993. Sturgeon Notes. The Hudson River Foundation. Lower Hudson River. Issue 1, November 1993. Ithaca, New York. 6pp.

Dadswell, M. J. 1979. Biology and population characteristics of the shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum (LeSueur), 1818 (Osteichthys, Acipenseridae) in the St. John esturary, New Brunswick, Canada. Canadian J. Zoology 57:2186-2210.

Dadswell, M. J., et al. 1984. Synopsis of biological data on shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum LeSueur 1818. NOAA Tech. Rep. NMFS 14, FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 140.

Dovel, W. L. 1978. Biology and mangement of Atlantic sturgeons,Acipenser oxyrhynchyus (Mitchill), and shortnose sturgeons, Acipenser brevirostrum (LeSueur), of the Hudson Estuary. Wapora Inc. 181 pp.

Dovel, W. L., A. W. Pekovich, and T. J. Berggren. 1992. Biology of the shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum Lesueur, 1818) in the Hudson River estuary, New York. Pages 187-216 in C. L. Smith, editor. Estuarine Research in the 1980s. State University Press, Albany New York.

Dovel, W.L. 1981. The endangered shortnose sturgeon of the Hudson Estuary: its life history and vulnerability to the activities of man. Report submitted to Federal Energy Reg. Comm. by the Oceanic Society. 139pp.

Dovel, W.L. 1981b. The endangered shortnose sturgeon of the Hudson Estuary: its life history and vulnerability to the activities of man. Report submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Comm. by the Oceanic Soc. 139 pp.

Dovel, W.L. and T.J. Berggen. 1983. Atlantic strugeon of the Hudson Estuary, New York. New York Fish Game Journal. 30(2):140-172.

Gilbert, C. R. 1989. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (Mid-Atlantic Bight) Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report. 82(11.22). U.S Army Corps of Engineers TR EL-82-4. 28 pp.

Haley, N., J. Boreman, and M. Bain. 1996. Juvenile sturgeon habitat use in the Hudson river. Section VIII: 36 pp. In J. R. Waldman, W. C. Nieder, and E. A. Blair, editors. Final reports of the Tibor T. Polgar Fellowship Program, 1995. Hudson River Foundation, New York.

Hall, J. W., T. I. J. Smith, and S. D. Lamprecht. 1991. Movements and habitats of shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum in the Savannah River. Copeia 1991:695-702.

Hoff, J.G. 1979. Annotated bibliography and subject index on the shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum. NOAA Technical Report NMFS SSRF-731, 16 pp.

Kieffer, M., and B. Kynard. 1996. Spawning of shortnose sturgeon in the Merrimack River. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 125:179-186.

Kynard, B. 1996. Life history, latitudinal patterns, and status of shortnose sturgeon. Sturgeon Notes (Cornell University) (4):1. [Abstract of a paper to appear in Environmental Biology of Fishes]

Kynard, B. 1997. Life history, latitudinal patterns and status of the shortnose sturgeon. Environmental Biology of the Fishes 48:319-334.

Lee, D. S., C. R. Gilbert, C. H. Hocutt, R. E. Jenkins, D. E. McAllister, and J. R. Stauffer, Jr. 1980. Atlas of North American freshwater fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina. i-x + 854 pp.

Matthews, J.R. and C.J. Moseley (eds.). 1990. The Official World Wildlife Fund Guide to Endangered Species of North America. Volume 1. Plants, Mammals. xxiii + pp 1-560 + 33 pp. appendix + 6 pp. glossary + 16 pp. index. Volume 2. Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, Fishes, Mussels, Crustaceans, Snails, Insects, and Arachnids. xiii + pp. 561-1180. Beacham Publications, Inc., Washington, D.C.

McCleave, J.D. et. al. 1977. Daily movements of shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum, in a Maine estuary. Copeia (1): 149-157.

NatureServe. 2003. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 1.8. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. (Accessed: January 26, 2004).

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Page, L. M., and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes: North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 432 pp.

Pottle, R., and M. J. Dadswell. 1979. Studies on larval and juvenile shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum). Report to the Northeast Utilities Service Company, Hartford, Connecticut.

Richmond, A. M., and B. Kynard. 1995. Ontogenetic behavior of shortnose sturgeon. Copeia 1995:172-182.

Robins, C. R., and G. C. Ray. 1986. A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes of North America. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Massachusetts. 354 pp.

Robins, C.R., R.M. Bailey, C.E. Bond, J.R. Brooker, E.A. Lachner, R.N. Lea, and W.B. Scott. 1991. Common and scientific names of fishes from the United States and Canada. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 20. 183 pp.

Seibel, D. 1991. Habitat selection, movement, and response to illumination of shortnose sturgeon in the Connecticut River. M. A. thesis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Smith, C.L. 1985. The Inland Fishes of New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 522pp.

Stone, S. L., et al. 1994. Distribution and abundance of fishes and invertebrates in Mid-Atlantic estuaries. ELMR Rep. No. 12. NOAA/NOS Strategic Environmental Assessments Division, Silver Spring, Maryland. 280 pp.

Taubert, B. D. 1980. Reproduction of shortnose sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum, in Holyoke Pool, Connecticut River, Massachusetts. Copeia (1): 114-117.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1967. Native fish and wildlife: endangered species. Federal Register 32(48):4001.

Links

About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 21, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Acipenser brevirostrum. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/shortnose-sturgeon/. Accessed May 20, 2019.

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