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Atlantic sturgeon gains protection under the Endangered Species Act

The U.S. federal government has listed the massive and bizarre Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Historically overfishing decimated the Atlantic sturgeon, while on-going threats include pollution and infrastructure, like dams and bridges that destroy habitat. Fishing for the Atlantic sturgeon has been banned since 1998, they are still caught as bycatch.

“Atlantic Sturgeon are magnificent, long-lived creatures which have been an integral part of the Hudson River ecosystem for millennia, but have suffered terribly from overfishing, habitat destruction and power plant intakes, decimating their numbers. Every effort should be made to protect the remaining population and the critical habitat it needs to survive and prosper,” said Phillip Musegaas, director Riverkeeper’s Hudson River Program.

The listing came as a result of a 2009 petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Known to live as long as sixty years, Atlantic sturgeon don’t mature until around twenty years old. The fish grow as large as 14 feet (4.3 meters) long and weigh up to 800 pounds (370 kilograms). Atlantic sturgeon once swam the waterways of the eastern U.S. and Canada in massive numbers. A century ago, it’s estimated that 180,000 female adult fish made up the Delaware River population. Today, the estimate is down to 300, a decline of some 99.8 percent.

Of five subpopulations, the government is listing four as “endangered,” and one, in the Gulf of Maine, as “threatened.”

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