Management Overview

Atlantic Sturgeon are protected under the Endangered Species Act. In 2012, four distinct population segments were listed as endangered (New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic DPSs) and one DPS was listed as threatened (Gulf of Maine DPS).

This means that the Atlantic sturgeon is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. NOAA Fisheries is working to protect this species with the goal of population recovery.

Recovery Planning and Implementation

Critical Habitat Designation

Once a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat. Those areas may be designated as critical habitat through a rulemaking process. The designation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, wilderness reserve, preservation, or other conservation area; nor does the designation affect land ownership. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these designated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

On August 17, 2017, we designated areas in each of the distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon as critical habitat. We designated these areas because they protect spawning locations, rearing areas, water quality, and water quantity necessary for Atlantic sturgeon survival.

Picture of an Atlantic sturgeon entangled in fishing line.

Atlantic sturgeon entangled in fishing line. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Conservation Efforts

Restoring Habitats and Fish Passages

Sturgeon and other migrating fish, such as salmon, shad, and alewives, need access to freshwater habitat for spawning and rearing. In some cases, Atlantic sturgeon need to swim thousands of miles through the oceans and rivers to reach their destination, but they may be blocked from completing their journey by man-made barriers, such as dams. These barriers have had serious impacts on Atlantic sturgeon spawning runs along the entire East Coast, particularly in the Southeast. Removal of outdated dams can greatly improve Atlantic sturgeon access to historical habitats. NOAA Fisheries works with conservation organizations, energy companies, states, tribes and citizens to evaluate barriers and improve fish passage. Most barriers have the same general impact on fish—blocking migrations—but each requires a specific set of conservation actions. Learn more about improving fish passage

The Penobscot River—New England’s second largest river—has been designated a NOAA Habitat Focus Area, as human activities have caused adverse impacts to the watershed. Recovery of endangered and threatened Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, and Atlantic salmon are a key objective of the ongoing habitat improvement efforts.

Learn more about the Penobscot River Habitat Focus Area

Educating the Public

We believe that one of the best ways to help save this amazing species is by getting the word out through outreach. Our scientists are working with students and teachers to learn more about the movements, behavior, and threats to Atlantic and shortnose sturgeons along the East Coast. The Students Collaborating to Undertake Tracking Efforts for Sturgeon program provides lesson plans, educational kits, and an opportunity for classrooms to adopt a tagged sturgeon.

Learn more about the SCUTES program

Cooperating Internationally

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) protects Atlantic sturgeon and other sturgeons by regulating international trade in listed species of plants and animals.

Regulatory History

A petition to list Atlantic sturgeon was submitted in 1997. After a status review, it was determined that the species did not merit listing under the ESA at that time.

In 2003, a workshop sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was held to review the status of Atlantic sturgeon again. The workshop attendees concluded that some populations seemed to be recovering while other populations continued to be depressed. As a result, we initiated a status review in 2005 to reevaluate whether this species required protection under the ESA. That status review was completed in 2007.

A petition to list Atlantic sturgeon under the ESA was submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2009. We determined that the petitioned action may be warranted and decided to seek a new round of public comment to update the 2007 status review before moving forward with a 12-month finding and determination on whether to propose ESA listing.

In 2012, NOAA Fisheries announced a final decision to list five distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon under the ESA. The Chesapeake Bay, New York Bight, Carolina, and South Atlantic populations of Atlantic sturgeon are listed as endangered, while the Gulf of Maine population is listed as threatened.

NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region has jurisdiction for implementing the ESA with respect to the Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, and Chesapeake Bay DPSs. NOAA Fisheries Southeast Region oversees implementation of the ESA for the Carolina and South Atlantic DPSs.