To save a prehistoric fish
from the brink of extinction.

Urge agencies to protect the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon!

Help save the ancient and ENDANGERED Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River

Call on Our Government Agencies to Act Now to Protect Our Sturgeon From Extinction.
With Only 250 Spawning Adults Left We Are Running Out of Time!

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 sturgeon need your help TODAY before it is too late!

PRESS RELEASE:
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.

Despite the Atlantic Sturgeon’s listing as a federally protected endangered species since 2012, numerous regulatory agencies, including the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries), have failed to adequately protect the sturgeon from pollution, vessel strikes, habitat destruction, dredging, deepening, fossil fuel industry port projects, and climate change. Protestors demanded that agencies take strong action to safeguard the future of the sturgeon, aiming to keep this vital species alive for both present and future generations to appreciate.

“For hundreds of years the government officials of our region have allowed our genetically unique population of Atlantic Sturgeon to be ravaged. It is legally and morally wrong that our government agencies today do not use the authority they have to right this historic wrong and to take every step necessary to help our Atlantic Sturgeon to populate and to thrive. Our Delaware River Atlantic Sturgeon live nowhere else on earth but in our beautiful Delaware River.  If our agencies fail to do everything they can to protect them, they will have betrayed their oath of office, betrayed future generation’s who will be denied the beauty and joy of our River’s genetically unique sturgeon, and will have acted with an unforgivable hubris believing they were entitled to wipe out a genetically unique population of sturgeon without apology or concern, ” stated Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Read the full press release here.


Background

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
USFWS

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.

PLEASE CONTACT!

Report stranded, injured, or dead sturgeon to
NOAA Fisheries

(978) 281-9328
noaa.sturg911@noaa.gov
or
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network
1-800-8-DELAWARE

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

Sign up to attend the rally, November 16,
11am- 1pm