Frequently Asked Questions about the Atlantic Coast Sturgeon Tissue Research Repository
Information pertaining to the Atlantic Coast Sturgeon Tissue Research Repository
What is the Atlantic Coast Sturgeon Tissue Research Repository?
Through a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Leetown Science Center, NOAA Fisheries has established the Atlantic Coast Sturgeon Tissue Research Repository (research repository), which serves as a centralized archive for tissue samples and genetic material from Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. The research repository serves as an important tool for NOAA Fisheries, which has responsibility for managing these listed sturgeons under the Endangered Species Act.
All samples were collected and are held in accordance with permits or other appropriate authorization from NOAA Fisheries. Samples are deposited into the archive from many sources and may be requested by others for use in bona fide research.
Why is there a tissue research repository?
Atlantic sturgeon are protected as five distinct population segments (DPSs) under the Endangered Species Act. The Gulf of Maine DPS is threatened while the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic DPSs are endangered. These fish move extensively as subadults and adults, and commonly migrate far from their natal rivers and co-occur with sturgeon from other populations. Shortnose sturgeon are less migratory, but still are known to move between river systems. When researchers (with appropriate federal permits) or federal project managers (with a biological opinion) capture sturgeon and handle them, there is little if any additional stress associated with taking a small fin clip.
These opportunistic fin clips can help managers address a suite of applied management questions. Collected samples help us understand seasonal population and species distributions, the composition of mixed stock aggregations, and coastal movements. For researchers, the fin clips can provide information to understand where a sturgeon was hatched to help make sense of habitat use and movement. The fin clips also help managers understand which populations were impacted by an action (e.g., an incidental take) to provide protections in the future. For both Atlantic sturgeon (protected as 5 separate DPSs) and shortnose sturgeon (protected range-wide), understanding how management activities affect individuals, populations, and species is a key need to support recovery. Analysis of DNA provides this essential information.
In some instances, there is no money to analyze the samples at the time of collection, but they still have value to both managers and researchers. Researchers have been collecting tissue samples long before the research repository was established. However, as researchers have retired, samples have been lost or misplaced and are no longer available to sturgeon managers or other researchers. For this reason, NOAA Fisheries has allowed researchers to take separate tissue samples, but required tissue samples of all captured sturgeon to be sent to the research repository for perpetuity. In many cases, samples collected years ago are still able to provide key information to help support today’s research and management needs.
How are the tissue samples used?
NOAA Fisheries first realized the need for a research repository in the 1990s, well after the listing of shortnose sturgeon but before the Atlantic Sturgeon DPSs were listed. At that time, managers needed an understanding of relationships of sturgeon between river systems. While thousands of sturgeon had been harvested in commercial fisheries, tissue samples had not been collected. Because taking a small DNA sample has minimal effect to the fish and is incredibly valuable to managers, it is now required of researchers.
NOAA Fisheries and USGS use the research repository to support federal management activities. Samples taken from fish of known origin have been used to establish a genetic baseline. Our agencies can use the baseline to assign samples taken from fish of unknown origin to their natal DPS. In other cases, as new populations are discovered, the samples are used to understand the relations between populations to ensure appropriate protections of these threatened and endangered species.
Who has access to tissue samples?
As an outcome of the first biennial shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon workshop in 2016, NOAA Fisheries and researchers agreed:
- There is a need for free and open access to the tissue research repository.
- Researchers spend a lot of time and money collecting those samples and should be able to publish their findings before providing them to others.
As a compromise, managers agreed to establish three options available to researchers:
1) Tissue, DNA, or other isolates (e.g., RNA) and limited metadata, may be released immediately; no further permission needed.
2) Tissue, DNA, or other isolates and limited metadata may be released on January 1st of the 3rd calendar year following collection.
3) Tissue, DNA, or other isolates and limited metadata may only be released with consent from Holder, RP, PI, or designee, for up to 5 years after date of tissue collection.
All requests for tissue samples should be made via email to Robin Johnson, USGS (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Lynn Lankshear, NOAA Fisheries (email@example.com) with a specific request for which samples you would like sub-sampled and the purpose of the research. Before they will grant permission, they will contact the collector of record to ensure there are no objections. This is the process even after the tissue samples are 5 years old so as to ensure:
1) The collector is informed of the name and affiliation of the person interested in the sample they collected (or a due diligence effort is made), and
2) Ensure the size of the tissue sample is sufficiently large to allow a sub-sample to be taken without conflicting with other research priorities.
USGS researchers at Leetown Science Center and managers at NOAA Fisheries follow the same protocol when conducting work that would require them to use sturgeon material from the research repository. The permitting authority that allows USGS, Leetown to receive and possess sturgeon samples for the research repository does not confer to USGS personnel any rights to use the samples. Any use of research repository samples by other than the collector of record must follow the agreement described above.
Who pays to have the samples analyzed?
This depends. Typically, it is the responsibility of researchers to include funding for genetic analysis as part of their research proposals. Managers at NOAA Fisheries, USGS, or other federal agencies may pay to analyze samples to achieve federal management objectives. This will typically be done in partnership with the collector of record or, in the case of incidental take, with the regulatory agency. In all cases, a due diligence effort to contact the collector of record will occur before the use of the samples and the analyzed tissue results will be conveyed to the collector of record. If samples do not need to be analyzed immediately for management purposes, they will be archived until there is a need and such money is available for managers to analyze the samples, or until the collector of record pays to have their samples analyzed.
I submitted tissue samples to the research repository. Why haven't I received my results back?
NOAA Fisheries must prioritize some of the samples submitted to the research repository to address specific federal needs. In many cases, NOAA Fisheries managers may need to understand the DPS of origin of a sturgeon collected in association with monitoring a federal activity or investigating a sturgeon mortality. Or we may need to understand the composition of mixed aggregations of sturgeon to inform status reviews, for instance. Interested parties may reach out to USGS (see contact above) to discuss arrangements to have additional samples processed or may make arrangements for analysis at another laboratory.
Where are the analyzed data published?
The following references have used the research repository to inform their results and discussions.
Kazyak DC, Flowers AM, Hostetter NJ, Madsen JA, Breece M, Higgs A, Brown LM, Royle JA, and Fox DA. 2020. Integrating side-scan sonar and acoustic telemetry to estimate the annual spawning run size of Atlantic Sturgeon in the Hudson River. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences XX:XXX-XXX.
Fox AG, Wirgin II, and Peterson DL. 2018. Occurrence of Atlantic Sturgeon in the St. Marys River, Georgia. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science 10:606–618.
Wirgin I, Roy NK, Maceda L, and Mattson MT. 2018. DPS and population origin of subadult Atlantic Sturgeon in the Hudson River. Fisheries Research 207:165-170.
Arendt M, Post W, Frazier B, Talierco M, Farrae D, Darden T, Geer P, and Kalinowsky C. 2017. Temporal and spatial distribution of Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) in U.S. Territorial waters off South Carolina and Georgia. Final Report for Grant Number NA13NMF4720045.
Lee L, Anstead K, Appelman M, Celestino M, Curti K, Drew K, Flowers J, Fox D, Hale E, Higgs A, Kazyak D, Loeffler M, Post B, Schneider E, Secor D. 2017. Atlantic Sturgeon Benchmark Stock Assessment. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Washington, D.C.
Dunton KJ, Jordaan A, Conover DO, McKown KA, Bonacci LA, and Frisk MG. 2015. Marine Distribution and Habitat Use of Atlantic Sturgeon in New York Lead to Fisheries Interactions and Bycatch. Marine and Coastal Fisheries 7(1):18-32.
Wirgin I, Breece MW, Fox DA, Maceda L, Wark KW, and King T. 2015. Origin of Atlantic Sturgeon collected off the Delaware Coast during spring months. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 35:20-30.
Wirgin I, Maceda L, Grunwald C, and King TL. 2015. Population origin of Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus bycaught in US Atlantic coast fisheries. Journal of Fish Biology 86(4):1251-1270.
To provide additional references to this list, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.