Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.



Contact: Cynthia Elkins (707) 923-2931, Environmental Protection Information Center
Jeff Miller (510) 841-0812, Center for Biological Diversity
More Information: Green Sturgeon

The National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS ")made a formal finding today that listing the green sturgeon as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA ")may be warranted. The finding is based on a petition submitted by the Environmental Protection Information Center ("EPIC"), Center for Biological Diversity and WaterKeepers Northern California in June 2001,which NMFS found presented substantial information to indicate the prehistoric fish should be added to the growing list of endangered migratory fish species. NMFS now has until June 2002 to conduct a status review of the species and to make a final determination as to whether listing of the green sturgeon as endangered or threatened is warranted.

The green sturgeon is one of the world's most ancient species, and has remained virtually unchanged since it appeared more than 200 million years ago. Water quality and quantity problems have severely impacted the species, and the petition documents an 88%decline in most of the sturgeon 's range and the loss of the majority of its spawning populations over the last four decades. Dams, water diversions, pollution, and over-fishing have reduced the green sturgeon to only three remaining spawning populations - in the Sacramento River and Klamath-Trinity River basins in California, and the Rogue River in Oregon. All of these populations are at critically low levels.

"Green sturgeon are truly magnificent creatures, and it would be a great tragedy if we allow human impacts to bring its long existence to an end. This finding by NMFS is a very positive signal, and we are hopeful that it will lead to the protection and recovery of this ancient fish species," Cynthia Elkins, EPIC, stated.

Green Sturgeon are among the largest and longest living species found in freshwater, living up to 70 years, reaching 7.5 feet in length and weighing up to 350 pounds. The sturgeon has a shovel-like snout and vacuum cleaner-like mouth that it uses to siphon food. Sturgeons are modern relicts of the ancient group of bony fishes, and have a skeleton that is mostly cartilage rather than bone and rows of bony plates for protection instead of scales. The species ranges from Mexico to Alaska in marine waters and feeds in estuaries and bays from Monterey Bay to British Columbia.

"Given half a chance, these primordial fish will inhabit our rivers for another 200 million years. This is a step toward protection for the green sturgeon and a wake-up call to restore the health of the large river systems on which they depend," Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, stated.

Green sturgeon spawn in the freshwater of only a few large rivers, all of which have diversions, dams, and sediment problems that limit sufficient water flow and suitable spawning conditions. Eight species of sturgeon occur in North America, four of which (plus one population of the white sturgeon)are already listed as endangered or threatened; the Shortnose sturgeon, Gulf sturgeon, Pallid sturgeon, Alabama sturgeon, and the Kootenai River population of the white sturgeon.

A number of spawning populations of green sturgeon in California have been presumed lost since the 1960s and 1970s - in the Eel River, South Fork Trinity River, and San Joaquin River. Severe declines of green sturgeon have been noted recently in northern rivers which may have once had spawning populations, such as the Umpqua River in Oregon and the Fraser River in Canada.

The San Francisco Bay population of green sturgeon has been estimated to fluctuate between 500 and 1000 adult fish in the last few decades. The size of the Klamath basin population is unknown, but is likely the largest spawning population. It is believed that the spawning population in the Eel River disappeared by the 1970s, although a few adult sturgeon have been found upstream in recent years.

In addition to habitat destruction, historic over-fishing was a major cause of decline of the green sturgeon - present fisheries probably continue to deplete a stock of large, old fish that cannot renew itself at present harvest rates. Sturgeons are highly vulnerable to over-fishing because of the long time it takes them to reach breeding maturity, and their infrequent reproductive success. Their large size and sluggish nature make them easy to net and snag.

Until recently, various West Coast fisheries were harvesting at least 6,000 to 11,000 green sturgeon per year. In recent years, the annual harvest has been estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 adult fish. More restrictive sturgeon size limit fishing regulations have been gradually implemented in California, Oregon, and Washington - mainly aimed to protect the larger and more common white sturgeon, but which allow many of the large breeding-age green sturgeon to be caught.

EPIC is a community-based, nonprofit organization that actively works to protect and restore native
plants and animals, watersheds, and natural ecosystems in the redwood region of California. Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats in the Western Hemisphere through science, education, policy, and
environmental law. WaterKeepers is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and enhance the resources and health of the ecosystems and communities of the San Francisco Bay and Delta region.

A copy of a study from the American Fisheries Society,"Marine, Estuarine, and Diadromous Fish
Stocks at Risk of Extinction in North America," is available at their web site at:


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