The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that NJ's Atlantic sturgeon population will be listed as Endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act effective April 2012. Currently, NJ has only one other fish species listed as endangered - and it is also a sturgeon, the shortnose sturgeon.
The NOAA’s Fisheries Service announcement was a final decision to list five distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act. The Chesapeake Bay, New York Bight, Carolina, and South Atlantic populations of Atlantic sturgeon will be listed as endangered.
The numbers are rather shocking. In the Delaware River before 1890, there were an estimated 180,000 adult females spawning, and now the total spawning adults in that river is believed to number fewer than 300.
Atlantic sturgeon are large, slow-growing, late-maturing, long-lived, estuary-dependent fish that live the majority of their lives in salt water, but hatch and spawn in freshwater.
They were once abundant, but in the late 19th century, demand grew for sturgeon caviar and the first major U.S. commercial fishery for them developed.
What threatens the species now? The unintended catching of Atlantic sturgeon in some fisheries is a major problem that is being dealt with, but also dams that block access to spawning areas, poor water quality for larvae and juveniles, dredging of historical spawning areas and strikes by ships are all factors.
According to the NOAA, it has been illegal to fish for, catch or keep Atlantic sturgeon for more than a decade. The listing decisions will not have an immediate effect on fishing. NOAA will work with fishery management councils, interstate fisheries managers, state agencies, and the fishing industry to find ways to further reduce bycatch [the unintentional catching while harvesting other species] of Atlantic sturgeon in federal and state waters without unduly hampering fishing activities.