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!
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!
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!
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:
- 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
Threats and How You Can Support Advocacy
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
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
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.