About the Species
The Chinese sturgeon is a large, long-lived anadromous species found in the freshwater Yangtze River as well as marine waters off the coast of China. The Chinese sturgeon is listed as endangered throughout its range under the Endangered Species Act.
The wild population of Chinese sturgeon has experienced a drastic decrease in abundance, and is continuing to decline. The total adult abundance was estimated at 2,569 in 2015, reduced from 6,000 in 2010 and 32,260 before 1981. The species failed to breed naturally in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and possibly 2019, though captive rearing and release is occurring to support the survival of the species. Damming of the Yangtze River poses the main threat to the species by reducing the spawning area available to the species, and altering water flow and water temperature regimes. Other threats include pollution, disease, illegal fishing, competition with introduced sturgeon species, climate change, and inadequate regulatory mechanisms.
ESA Endangered - Foreign
CITES Appendix II
Chinese sturgeon are a large species that can reach up to 16 feet in length. It has gray-black coloring on its back, red-brown or gray coloring on its sides, and a white belly. Like all sturgeon, the species has a cartilaginous skeleton, heterocercal caudal fins (upper lobe larger than lower), single spiracle respiratory openings, a bottom-oriented mouth with four barbels (sensory “whiskers”), a flat snout, a strong rounded body, and unique ganoid scales.
Behavior and Diet
The Chinese sturgeon is an anadromous species that spends most of its life at sea and migrates to spawn in the Yangtze River. They are benthic predators, and their dominant prey includes annelids, crustaceans, molluscs, fishes and aquatic insects.
Where They Live
Historically found in southwest Korea, western Kyushu, Japan, and in the Yellow, Yangtze, Pearl, Mingjiang, and Qingtang rivers in China, the species now only occurs below the Gezhouba dam in the Yangtze River, and the Yellow and East China Seas.
Lifespan & Reproduction
Males and females mature at approximately 8 years and 14 years, respectively, and adults spawn about every four years. Adults approach the Yangtze River Estuary in June or July and swim upstream to spawning areas. They spend up to 18 months in the middle reaches of the river as their gonads mature, and begin spawning in October or November of the next year. After spawning, adults return to the sea and their larvae begin to drift down the river towards the estuary.
Damming of the Yangtze River poses the main threat to the species by reducing the spawning area available to the species, and altering water flow and water temperature regimes. Several dams have been constructed on the main channel of the Yangtze River since the 1980s, including the Gezhouba in 1981, the Three Gorges in 2003, the Xiangjiaba in 2012, and the Xiluodu in 2013. The primary impact of the Gezhouba Dam’s construction in 1981 was the dramatic reduction in spawning habitat available to the species. The operation of dams also delays temperature changes in the river, which in turn delays the start of spawning for the species. Habitat suitability in the river has also declined due to changes in sedimentation and water flow levels caused by dam operation.
Last updated by NOAA Fisheries on 09/15/2022