U.S. Management of Atlantic Sturgeon
Braddock J. Spear
Abstract.—Large-scale commercial fisheries for Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus in the late 1880s eventually led to substantial reductions in the population size. The coastwide Atlantic sturgeon population of the United States has not recovered to the levels seen prior to the 1900s. A number of factors have contributed to the slow recovery or continued decline of Atlantic sturgeon populations, including continued commercial fishing and the targeting of females for caviar, bycatch in other fisheries, and changes in habitat due to dam construction and water quality degradation. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) developed the first coastwide management plan for Atlantic sturgeon in 1990. In response to the shortcomings of that plan, the ASMFC applied new standards and the authority granted to it by the U.S. Congress to adopt a coastwide moratorium on all harvesting in 1998. A federal status review conducted in 1998 concluded that the continued existence of Atlantic sturgeon was not threatened given the situation at the time. Since then, monitoring programs have indicated varying levels of relative abundance in several water bodies along the Atlantic coast. The U.S. government is responsible for undertaking a status review to document any changes since the last review and determining whether those findings warrant a threatened or endangered listing for the species. The government’s findings may have far-reaching effects on many other Atlantic coastal fisheries.