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Shortnose Sturgeon
Shortnose Sturgeon, Acipenser brevirostrum

Sturgeon, along with paddlefish, gar, and bowfins, are all ancient fishes. Twenty-three species of sturgeon survive worldwide; six species live in the large rivers in North America, and two species (Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon) inhabit Virginia's waters. All are andaromous (spawn in fresh water), but some spend most of their lives in the ocean. A female sturgeon can produce up to 3 million eggs, but as a species, they do not reach maturity until they are old (>10 years of age) . Sturgeon have a suctorial mouth, and feed on the bottom on insects, clams, snails, and other bottom dwelling animals. The body is scaleless with bony plates. Sturgeon are very slow to reproduce and overfishing has diminished their populations. Habitat degradation in the form of water pollution and damming of large rivers has contributed to their decline. Some species are endangered.

The eggs (caviar) and flesh are sold as luxury food items and command extraordinary high prices. The flesh is also superior, especially smoked. Limited farming of white sturgeon is being practiced in California and elsewhere. The shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon are endangered and depleted in Virginia, and efforts are being made for their restoration.
Physical Description: 
  • Lacks bony plates on its posterior lower side
  • Has a short snout and large mouth
  • Young sturgeons have a long, sharp snout that becomes shorter, broader, and more rounded in adults
  • Heterocercal tail
  • Yellowish-brown dorsal, Light or white ventral color
  • Similar species:
  • Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)
  • Mean body size:
  • Adults are 450-900 mm total length.
  • Habitat:
  • Adults live in deep water in the winter and shallow water in summer
  • Juveniles prefer deep river channels with a strong current
  • Inhabit a wide range of salinities, from fresh water to the ocean
  • Distribution in VA:
  • Last specimen in Chesapeake Bay reported in 1876 in the Potomac River, Washington, DC
  • Food Habits:
  • Bottom feeder, eating mollusks, worms, crustaceans, and aquatic insects
  • Juveniles eat small crustaceans and insect larvae
  • Ventral barbels covered with taste buds and mouth extends down at end of fleshy sleeve
  • Reproductive Habits:
  • Anadromous, migrating upstream to spawn above tidal influence in rivers
  • Migrating for feeding, spawning, and wintering habitats
  • Spawning occurs in mid-April
  • Spawning occurs in fast flows over gravel
  • Mature at ages 3-5 for males, 6-7 for females, varies with latitude
  • Do not breed for 1-3 years after spawning
  • Fecundity is 27,000-208,000 eggs per fish, depending on body weight
  • Population Status, Economic, or Ecological Importance:
  • Listed as federally endangered by the Fish & Wildlife Service in 1967
  • Legally endangered in Virginia, but not found in over 100 years
  • Extirpated from some areas due to pollution, dams, and over-exploitation
  • Common in other drainages
  • Restoration may be achieved through hatchery culture and restocking
References: Jenkins, R.E and N.M. Burkhead. 1993. Freshwater Fishes of Virginia. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.
If you are seeking more information for the above species click on the VAFWIS logo (The Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service):

Continue Browsing Families.....
  1. Petromyzontidae, Lampreys
  2. Polyodontidae, Paddlefish
  3. Acipenseridae, Sturgeons
  4. Lepisosteidae, Gars
  5. Amiidae, Bowfins
  6. Anguillidae, Freshwater Eels
  7. Amblyopsidae, Cavefishes
  8. Ictaluridae, Catfish
  9. Percopsidae, Trout-Perches
  10. Salmonidae, Trouts
  11. Clupeidae, Herrings
  12. Esocidae, Pikes
  13. Aphredoderidae, Pirate Perches
  14. Umbridae, Mudminnows
  15. Fundulidae, Killifishes
  16. Poeciliidae, Livebearers
  17. Cyprinidae, Minnows
  18. Catostomidae, Suckers
  19. Gasterosteidae, Sticklebacks
  20. Atherinidae, Silversides
  21. Cottidae, Sculpins
  22. Sciaenidae, Drums
  23. Percidae, Perches
  24. Moronidae, Striped Basses
  25. Centrarchidae, Sunfishes

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