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Gulf Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi)

Status | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution | Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview | Taxonomy | Key Documents | More Info

Status

ESA Threatened - throughout its range
CITES Appendix II - throughout its range

Species Description

Weight:
up to 200 pounds (90 kg)
Length:
4-8 feet (1-2.5 m)
Appearance:
color, special features
  primitive fish characterized by bony plates, or "scutes," and a hard, extended snout
Lifespan:
20-25 years on average, but can live up to 60 years
Diet:
brachiopods, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans
Behavior:
they migrate into rivers to spawn in the spring

Gulf sturgeon, also known as the Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, are "anadromous" fish, inhabiting coastal rivers from Louisiana to Florida during the warmer months, and the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries and bays in the cooler months.

Sturgeon are primitive fish characterized by bony plates, or "scutes," and a hard, extended snout; they have a "heterocercal" caudal fin--their tail is distinctly asymmetrical with the upper lobe longer than the lower. Adults range from 4-8 feet (1-2.5 m) in length, females attain larger sizes than males. They can live for up to 60 years, but average about 20-25 years.

Gulf sturgeon are bottom feeders, and eat primarily macroinvertebrates, including brachiopods, mollusks, worms, and crustaceans. All foraging occurs in brackish or marine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries; sturgeon do not forage in riverine habitat.

Gulf sturgeon migrate into rivers to spawn in the spring; spawning occurs in areas of clean substrate comprised of rock and rubble. Their eggs are sticky, sink to the bottom, and adhere in clumps to snags, outcroppings, or other clean surfaces.

Habitat

Gulf sturgeon are anadromous: adults spawn in freshwater and migrate into marine waters in the fall to forage and overwinter. Juvenile Gulf sturgeon stay in the river for about the first 2-3 years. Gulf sturgeon return to their natal stream to spawn.

Riverine habitats where the healthiest populations of Gulf sturgeon are found include long, spring-fed, free-flowing rivers, typically with steep banks, a hard bottom, and an average water temperature of 60-72° F. Gulf sturgeon initiate movement up to the rivers between February and April and migrate back out to the Gulf of Mexico between September and November.

Critical Habitat

In 2003, NMFS and the USFWS jointly designated Gulf sturgeon critical habitat in 14 geographic areas from Florida to Louisiana, encompassing spawning rivers and adjacent estuarine areas.

Distribution

Gulf sturgeon are found in river systems from Louisiana to Florida, in nearshore bays and estuaries, and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Population Trends

The total number of adult Gulf sturgeon is unknown. However, over 15,000 adults are estimated in the seven coastal rivers of the Gulf of Mexico. Of those rivers:

Threats

Historically:

Current threats include:

Conservation Efforts

On September 30, 1991, the Gulf sturgeon was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (56 FR 49653). In 1995, a recovery/ management plan was published for the Gulf Sturgeon. In addition, all U.S. fisheries for the Gulf sturgeon have been closed.

Regulatory Overview

The Gulf sturgeon was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1991. NMFS and USFWS share jurisdiction of this species. In 1995, we completed a joint Recovery and Management Plan [pdf].

In 2003, critical habitat for Gulf sturgeon was designated for 14 geographic areas among Gulf of Mexico rivers and tributaries.

NMFS completed a 5-year review [pdf] of Gulf sturgeon in September 2009.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyes
Order: Acipenseriformes
Family: Acipenseridae
Genus: Acipenser
Species: oxyrinchus
Subspecies: desotoi

The
Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) is another subspecies of A. oxyrinchus.

Key Documents

(All documents are in PDF format.)
Title Federal Register Date
5-Year Review n/a 09/2009
Designation of Critical Habitat 68 FR 13370 03/19/2003
Recovery/Management Plan n/a 09/1995
ESA Listing Rule 56 FR 49653 09/30/1991

More Information

References

Updated: January 21, 2015