WASHINGTON (CN) – The Gulf of Maine population of Atlantic sturgeon is so threatened by degradation of its spawning grounds that the National Marine Fisheries Services proposes to prohibit all commercial activity that harms the species, under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act.
Under the act “harm” includes any activity that has a significant impact on the species’ life-cycle, such as habitat degradation.
In 1998, after two centuries of over-harvesting, a coast-wide moratorium on fishing for all populations of Atlantic sturgeon was imposed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Despite the ban on directed fishing, the agency says that incidental by-catch in commercial fisheries and degradation of habitat by dredging and water pollution continue to harm the species.
While the agency said the ocean habitat of the Gulf of Maine remains stable, the degradation of the sturgeon’s upriver spawning habitat has reached the point that only one river in the Gulf of Maine, the Kennebec River, still serves as a viable spawning ground for the population.
According to the agency, dredging and filling operations to widen and deepen rivers for maritime traffic destroy the sturgeon’s spawning habitat by eliminating deep holes and the rock substrates to which the sturgeon normally attach their eggs.
In October 2010, the agency proposed listing the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment of Atlantic sturgeon as threatened and the five other domestic populations as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The olive green or blue gray Atlantic sturgeon has been known to live 60 years and can grow to 18 feet in length. Sturgeons are bottom feeders, having no teeth and a long snout that they stick into the mud to suck food into their mouths.
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