AUGUSTA, Maine — Federal officials announced Thursday that they are considering whether to designate the Atlantic sturgeon as a protected species throughout its range, which includes the Gulf of Maine and several of the state’s larger rivers.
Atlantic sturgeons are large, prehistoric-looking fish that spend most of their lives in salt water and return to freshwater rivers to spawn. Achieving lengths of up to 14 feet and weights of more than 800 pounds, Atlantic sturgeons are much larger than their smaller cousin, the short-nosed sturgeon, already listed as an endangered species.
An earlier study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommended protecting specific sturgeon populations in the mid-Atlantic. The latest review, however, also will include Atlantic sturgeons in the Gulf of Maine, marine ecologist Lisa Manning with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service said Thursday.
Both Atlantic and short-nosed sturgeons are known to inhabit or spawn in the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers in Maine. Manning said that because short-nosed sturgeons already are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and because the two types of fish favor the same types of habitat, she would not anticipate that a federal listing of Atlantic sturgeon would have major impacts on Maine.
“I don’t know that it would affect industries [along the rivers] to any greater extent than they are already under the short-nosed sturgeon,” Manning said.
But Commissioner George LaPointe with the Maine Department of Marine Resources said Thursday he believes it would be unnecessary to add the Atlantic sturgeon to the Endangered Species List.
LaPointe said fishing for Atlantic sturgeons has been banned in Maine for a decade or more, and the state is actively working to restore habitat for both types of sturgeon.
LaPointe agreed that an endangered or threatened listing of Atlantic sturgeon might not have dramatic impacts because they typically inhabit the same rivers as the already-protected short-nosed sturgeon. But that is not a reason for NOAA to expand the listing to Atlantic sturgeons, he said.
“The question is just because they can, should they. And my answer would be no,” LaPointe said.
Last summer, NOAA also designated Atlantic salmon populations in the Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers as endangered despite opposition from state officials.
NOAA has been studying the potential need to list the Atlantic sturgeon since 2007 but launched the most recent review in response to an October 2009 petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council.