Atlantic sturgeon, one of the most expensive and imperiled fish in the world, made it onto the endangered species list Wednesday.
Once plentiful, sturgeon populations in the U.S. and across the world have plummeted since humans targeted them for their caviar.
Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service listed the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina and South Atlantic populations as endangered, and the Gulf of Maine population as threatened. The move could lead to new protections for the fish’s habitat along the East Coast.
“Atlantic sturgeon have been teetering on the brink of extinction since they were severely depleted by fishing in the late 1800s,” said Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University. She added that now these populations will enjoy “the full force” of Endangered Species Act, “I am more optimistic than ever before that future generations will be able to see these ancient fish thriving once again off the shores of the East Coast.”
Some species of American sturgeon that have declined are now making a comeback. The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has led an effort to reintroduce 115,000 lake sturgeon into the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers over the past decade. Sturgeon on those waters went extinct in the 1970s.
Anna George, the aquarium’s director of conservation, said people can identify with sturgeon because their life history is closer to that of humans than most fish.
“They don’t reproduce until they’re teenagers, and they can live for a really long time,” she said, noting that lake sturgeon live to be as old as 150.