CORTLANDT, N.Y. – Populations of Atlantic sturgeon in the Hudson River were added to the Endangered Species Act list on Jan. 31 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service. Hudson River environmental groups are applauding the decision, and say future conservation measures could affect some of the Hudson River’s biggest industrial operations.
“This increased protection for Atlantic sturgeon has implications for many of our key issues, including the newly proposed reconstruction of the Tappan Zee Bridge," said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, in a provided statement. He said that Indian Point Power Plants in Buchanan and a proposed desalination plant in Rockland's Haverstraw Bay remain concerns for the organization.
Acipenser oxyrinchus, as the scientific community knows the Atlantic sturgeon, are estuary dwelling fish which take more than 11 years to mature, can grow up to 14-feet long and live up to 60 years according to the NOAA. The fish is nearly Jurassic in appearance, and is bluish gray with spiny plates running down its sides.
The NOAA says that before 1890, there were about 6,000 to 6,800 sturgeons spawning in the Hudson River, compared to about 870 adults now, 270 female and 600 male. The administration says the most precipitous drop in population came in the early 20th century, when sturgeon caviar was popularized.
There has been a fishing moratorium on the Hudson River population since 1998, so the change in designation will have little effect on area anglers, but environmental groups are hoping the new status of the fish will add regulatory challenges to new industrial projects slated around the river.
“The news that there are less than a thousand adult sturgeon in the Hudson is a mixed blessing, tragic that this magnificent species has been brought so low, but hopeful that the increased protection and attention paid to their survival will allow them to recover and repopulate the Hudson River,” said Musegaas in a release.
The NOAA has listed some of the species’ major threats as dredging, water quality degradation, habitat loss, vessel strikes and incidental catching of them in fisheries. Dredging is done throughout the Hudson for commercial and navigational boat traffic, but also for environmental reasons in some parts of the river.
For example, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing General Electric's removal of 2.4 million cubic yards of river sediment. The corporation agreed to conduct the removal after a 2002 decision by the EPA, classifying the former capacitor plant owned by GE as a Superfund Site. The EPA says the corporation dumped about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river from its capacitor plant located in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward.
Environmental Director for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Manna Jo Greene, said that the case of the Atlantic sturgeon and environmental dredging unfortunately pits people and fish against one another. She said that people, “have our own needs for survival, and a healthy economy and maintaining quality of life, and this is a case where the two are in competition with each other.”