To save a prehistoric fish
from the brink of extinction.

In the fall we held a funeral for the endangered, genetically unique, population of Delaware River Atlantic sturgeon as we mourned them being pushed to the edge of nonexistence.

Photo by Aileen Devlin, Virginia Sea Grant / CC BY-ND-2.0

Act Now to save our sturgeon!

July 19, 2023

Delaware Riverkeeper Network Files Petition Urging Special Status for Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon Due To Nearing Threat of Extinction

Philadelphia, PA: The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a Petition with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service urging that the Delaware River population of Atlantic Sturgeon be recognized as its own Distinct Population Segment (DPS) pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act. According to the organization, this recognition will provide increased protections essential for preventing the genetically unique population known to only exist in the Delaware River, from going extinct.

When the Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River were listed as endangered in 2012, along with all other populations nationwide save for one that was identified as threatened, they were identified as being a part of a DPS called the New York Bight. The New York Bight DPS includes both the Delaware River population of Atlantic sturgeon, as well as those that inhabit the Hudson River. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network petition demonstrates that combining the Delaware River and Hudson River populations into a single DPS distorts the status and recovery of the Delaware River sturgeon which are at perilously low levels.

Read the full press release here.

Our Campaign to SAVE the ancient and ENDANGERED Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River

The Delaware River is home to a genetically unique population of Atlantic Sturgeon found nowhere else in the world. The Atlantic sturgeon, listed as a federally protected endangered species since 2012, has a storied history in our Delaware River. Early American settlers said there were so many they could cross the River walking on their backs. But today, there are less than 250 spawning adults left of the River’s genetically unique line. Resource managers and regulatory agencies have neglected their duties to protect the health, habitat, and safety of the sturgeon.  Soon it will be too late. The agencies have lacked in their duties by:

  • The Delaware River Basin Commission is failing to pass legal standards needed to ensure the sturgeon have enough oxygen in the water to support every aspect of their lives.
  • The USEPA is, like the DRBC, failing to ensure needed pollution protection standards.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers keeps dredging and deepening the River, inflicting direct harm on the sturgeon and permitting passage of bigger ships that are slicing the sturgeon with their propellers or bashing them to death with their immense size.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service says yes to every dredging, development, port, industrial operation and powerplant put before them, despite their direct harms on the sturgeon.

The sturgeon need your help TODAY before it is too late!

June 29-30, 2023

Environmental Activists Host a “Last Baby Shower” for the Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon

An Action that Amplifies The Need For Immediate Government Action to Prevent Extinction of the Delaware River Genetically Unique Population of Atlantic Sturgeon

Philadelphia, PA: Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Waterspirit, and Saddler’s Woods Conservation Association, joined by volunteers from around the region, hosted the “Last Baby Shower for the Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon”. Over the course of the two day event, activists and volunteers are canvassing the lawns of Independence Hall and the streets of Philadelphia to alert the public to the plight of the genetically unique population of Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River, while at the same time gathering signatures for a message directed at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), and Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) urging immediate and specific protective action for the nearly extinct population.  

On the lawns of Independence Hall, Mama Atlantic Sturgeon and her Babies are seen running around alerting the public to ‘their’ dire fate. The activists, dressed up as sturgeon, are holding bloody ship propellers, lifting up informational signs, and handing out cards explaining the plight of the Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River. The goal of the event, according to organizers, is to educate the public and gather signatures urging meaningful government action. Members of the public are being invited to sign “Thank You” cards outlining the “deadly gifts of extinction” the targeted agencies have been providing the Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River. According to, and as described by, the event’s informational materials, the Delaware River Basin Commission, US Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Marine Fisheries Service have provided ‘gifts’ of ship strikes, habitat destruction, pollution, and failure to ensure dissolved oxygen levels sufficient for the sturgeon to propagate and thrive. 

Read the full press release here.

December 1, 2022

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Takes a Rare Step by Granting Environmental Coalition’s Petition to Protect Aquatic Life in the Delaware Estuary

PA, NJ, DE, NY – In a rarely taken step, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a legal petition filed by a coalition of leading environmental organizations regarding the health of the Delaware Estuary and its aquatic life. In a landmark determination, the EPA exercised its Clean Water Act Section 303(c)(4)(B) authority to begin the process of promulgating new water quality standards for the Delaware River estuary, superseding the authority of the regional Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which has thus far failed to uphold its obligation to protect the health of the Delaware River Estuary and its robust aquatic ecosystem. This decision formally recognizes the need for greater oversight and protection of aquatic life in the Estuary, including the federally endangered and genetically unique Atlantic sturgeon population.

Read the full press release here.

November 16, 2022

Watershed Activists, Businesses, and Residents Commemorate Loss of 350,000 Atlantic Sturgeon in Procession Around City Hall

Philadelphia, PA – Activists, indigenous leaders, and environmental advocates from across the watershed banded together today at Philadelphia City Hall to demand better protections for the Delaware River’s genetically unique population of Atlantic Sturgeon. Over fifty demonstrators processed around City Hall and the Army Corps of Engineers offices dressed in black, holding a funeral for the soon to be extinct Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon. Protestors carried a coffin supported by pallbearers representing various regulatory agencies, a banner adorned with the 250 remaining sturgeon hand-made by Westfield Friends School middle school students, 180,000 paper sturgeon piled high into wheelbarrows, and three oversized sturgeon representing just a fraction of the total population loss. Through this action, demonstrators spotlighted the knowing decimation of the Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon population by government agencies, pressing these agencies to take strong action immediately to prevent the sturgeon’s demise.

Read the full press release here.

Urge agencies to protect the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon!


The Delaware River’s Atlantic Sturgeon is in Peril

Two species of sturgeon live in the Delaware River, and both are endangered species.  The Shortnose Sturgeon’s population is stable.  But the Atlantic Sturgeon is threatened with going extinct here in the Delaware River in just a few short years.  The two biggest threats are pollution and death by ship-strikes (road-kill in the estuary).  We need everyone in our region to learn about this possible extinction, and to help turn the tide and stop the march to extinction!

Acipenser oxyrhynchus

Historical Context

Supported Indigenous Peoples for Thousands of Years

  • The Delaware River historically supported the largest population of Atlantic Sturgeon in North America
  • NMFS estimates that there were at least 180,000 spawning females in the Delaware River population of Atlantic Sturgeon

Delaware River Sturgeon Supported Success of American Settlers and Their Burgeoning Economy

  • Due to the large Sturgeon population and the rising popularity of its caviar, the Delaware River earned the title of “Caviar Capital of the North”
  • Of all Atlantic Sturgeon harvested between 1890 – 1899, 75%  originated in the Delaware River Watershed
  • Impressively, 3.2 million pounds of Sturgeon were harvested over the course of just 5 years in the 1890s

Success Brought Upon by Sturgeon Abundance and Resilience Led to Unforeseen Consequences

  • Frenzied over-harvesting quickly led to a drastic collapse of the River’s Atlantic Sturgeon population
  • Habitat loss began occurring in great volume from activities such as:
    • Dredging
    • Blasting
    • Other deepening activities
    • Salt water intrusion
    • Water pollution and poor water quality
    • Loss of river bottom habitat and coverage of silt by the coal industry
  • Sturgeon mortality also occurred from physical contact with dangerous items as detailed below:
    • Impingement and entrainment by energy and boat intakes
    • Boat and propeller strikes
    • Fisheries bycatch

Atlantic Sturgeon were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2012

  • Dangers from above have led to less than 300 spawning adults left in the Delaware River population of Atlantic Sturgeon
  • Four distinct populations of Sturgeon were identified under the Endangered Species Act in 2012
    • These population are referred to as the New York Bight which includes populations from the Delaware River, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina South Atlantic, and the Gulf of Maine
    • The Delaware River population of Atlantic Sturgeon contains a genetically distinct group but unfortunately this unique population is also in the worst shape. The issues they face are also complex in nature.
    • In 2014, DRN filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and critical habitat was designated for the Delaware River population
      • In 2017 other populations were included in the protective measures
      • Habitat for this population includes the Delaware River from the Route 1 Toll Bridge in Trenton downstream 137 river kilometers to Hope Creek, NJ. This portion of the river is vital to the Atlantic sturgeons recovery as it functions as both spawning grounds for Atlantic Sturgeon and as a migration corridor to and from the Atlantic sturgeon’s spawning grounds

Sturgeon Plight

Threats and How You Can Support Advocacy

Ship Strikes

Mortality from physical contact with ships and other large infrastructure in the water is arguably the primary threat to the well-being of Atlantic Sturgeon today.  These risks tend to be the worst in areas with high ship traffic such as the Delaware, Hudson, and James Rivers.


Report stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon to
NOAA Fisheries

(978) 281-9328
[email protected]
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network

Low Dissolved Oxygen and Water Pollution

Pollution of waterways via the introduction of excess nutrients remains as of the most impactful pressures Atlantic Sturgeon face today. Often these nutrients lead to low oxygenated or dead zones that suppress an ecologically healthy environment. Any action that reduces polluted storm runoff from entering waterways (examples listed below) can go a long way:

  • Refrain from using artificial fertilizer or excess amounts of any fertilizer
  • Support green spaces near your home and in your city and refrain from increasing impervious surfaces like asphalts and concrete on your property

Habitat Degradation

Atlantic Sturgeon habitat continues to be destroyed or degraded by a host of human activities including but not limited to dredging, intake of water for cooling of energy systems, and introduction of excess nutrients to the river via stormwater runoff. Rock blasting, dredging and river deepening directly threaten sturgeon habitat through physical disturbance but they may also lead to the sensitive sturgeon hard substrate bottom habitat being covered by excess siltation. Dredging has also contributed to saltwater intrusion, a phenomenon whereby saltier waters are accidentally introduced to a fresher water system and causes ecological damage, and varying influences to the quality of the river water.

Baby Atlantic Sturgeon in hand
Matt Fisher