Illustration by Duane Raver
Scientific Name:Acipenser oxyrinchus
Classification: Nongame Fish
Abundance: Rare; federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Species Profile (pdf)
Sturgeon are anadromous fish, which means they spend most of their life in salt water but migrate up freshwater rivers, along the coast, to spawn. Even though the Atlantic sturgeon is more common in North Carolina waters than the shortnose sturgeon, they are often confused with one another. Both have 5 rows of bony plates called “scutes” along the body. However, Atlantic sturgeon have 2 rows of prenatal shields, while the shortnose has only one. Also, the Atlantic sturgeon has a smaller mouth and a longer, more sharply pointed snout than the shortnose. Both also have a heterocercal (sharklike) tail. Unlike sharks, sturgeon have a much smaller dorsal (top) fin and are completely harmless. The Atlantic sturgeon has a protractile, suckerlike mouth, which it uses to feed along the ocean bottom. The bony plates and thick, leathery skin protect it from most predators and give it a very primitive appearance. In fact, it is a member of one of the oldest families of fishes, Acipenseridae, dating back to the dinosaur age. Learn more by reading the Atlantic Sturgeon species profile.
Detailed information on the locations of Atlantic sturgeon spawning and nursery sites is sparse in North Carolina. If you encounter a wild sturgeon, please contact the Commission’s Inland Fisheries Division at (919) 707-0220. Include the time, date, and location of the encounter, approximate length of the fish, and a good quality photograph (showing the mouth and anal fin for species verification). Please be mindful that no harvest of sturgeon is allowed. Any sturgeon captured incidental to fishing for other species must be returned to the water alive.
The Atlantic Sturgeon is a nongame fish with no fishing season or limit. It is listed as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Any sturgeon captured incidental to fishing for other species must be returned to the water alive.
Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina (PDF)
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports