Tiny sturgeon found in Del. River

September 15, 2009

Division of Fish and Wildlife personnel conducting sturgeon sampling on September 9th at Cherry Island flats on the Delaware River made a rare find: a tiny, Atlantic sturgeon.

It's the first direct evidence in nearly 50 years that Atlantic sturgeon are still spawning in the Delaware.

Although adult sturgeon can attain lengths of up to 14 feet, this young sturgeon weighed less than 1 ounce and was 7 inches long, small enough to fit in an outstretched hand, and was most likely born this spring.

More than 100 years ago, the Delaware River sturgeon population was the largest and most profitable sturgeon fishery along the East Coast.

However, overfishing, poor water quality, and habitat degradation caused population levels to currently hover at a tiny fraction of what they once were.

Numbers are so low that Atlantic sturgeon have been recommended for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act and are listed as state endangered in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Sturgeon are anadromous, meaning they live in saltwater as adults but migrate into their freshwater birth-river system to spawn. Spawning occurs in the spring from April to May. The new offspring live in freshwater for the first two years of their life before venturing into the ocean. Adult males mature in 12 to 14 years while females mature in 18 to 20 years.

Since 1991, the Division's sturgeon program has captured and tagged more than 2,000 sturgeon. Several individuals have been implanted with transmitters that provide data on habitat use, home ranges, overwintering areas and coastal movements. This important data is necessary to establish habitat protection and someday restoration of this important species.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife is interested in sturgeon sightings and tag reports. If you have caught one or recently seen a carcass, please contact Matt Fisher, Fisheries, 302-653-2887.

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