The Atlantic sturgeon—a species that has survived on the planet since the last ice age, more than 13,000 years ago—has been reduced to dangerously small populations and, after an extensive campaign by the NRDC, have now officially been added to the Endangered Species List.
The giant fish can grow to more than 14 feet in length, weighing as much as 800 pounds. Though sturgeon can regularly live 60 years or more, this long life is a result of slow development, something that makes their conservation status all the more precarious.
Since the 1800s, their populations along the Atlantic Coast of the United States has dropped significantly. In Delaware alone, the local population has gone from more than 180,000 to fewer than 300 spawning individuals. With such small populations, the NRDC argued, any strain could tip the species towards extinction.
Already, sturgeon face numerous challenges. Though commercial fishing has long been prohibited, they are often caught as bycatch. Moreover, dams block their passage from the sea to inland spawning grounds. Dredging destroys sturgeon's prey beds along the bottom of rivers. Eutrophication creates barriers and destroys habitats.
For these reasons, the National Marine Fisheries Service decided to list four distinct populations of sturgeon: The New York Bight, the Chesapeake Bay, the Carolina, and the South Atlantic. This prohibits any take—including via bycatch—and opens the species to more intensive conservation efforts.