Lake Sturgeon

Illustration by NOAA

Scientific Name: Acipenser fulvescens

Classification:  Nongame Fish

Abundance: Rare; State Listed as Species of Special Concern.


Species Profile  (pdf)   


Lake Sturgeon (Photo: Luke Etchison)

Lake Sturgeon-close up of head (Photo: Dylan Owensby)

Lake Sturgeon (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Additional Information

Lake Sturgeon are freshwater fish that were believed to be extirpated from North Carolina’s waters in the mid-20th century. Lake Sturgeon have been reintroduced into the lower French Broad River downstream of Marshall, N.C. (Madison Co.), where the species has been stocked annually since 2015. The lake sturgeon has a torpedo-shaped body, a snout that resembles a shovel, and a distinct shark-like tail. It has rows of armored plates (scutes) that run along its body that it uses for protection. 

Lake Sturgeon are slow-growing, long-living fish. They can live up to 150 years and can grow more than 6 feet and up to 200 lbs. Females mature at 14 to 33 years of age and reproduce only once every four or more years. Males mature at 8 to 20 years of age.

They lack teeth in their mouth, sucking food off the bottom of lakes and rivers. Sturgeon are bottom dwellers that feed on aquatic invertebrates including larval insects, crayfish and mollusks. They use their barbels and thick lips to locate food.
Lake Sturgeon migrate upstream in the spring to spawn in riffle and shoal areas over boulder, cobble and coarse gravel substrates. Research has shown that egg survival is dependent on available interstitial space that is relatively clear of silt. Learn more by reading the Lake Sturgeon species profile. (PDF)

Lake Sturgeon are listed as Species of Special Concern in North Carolina. There is no open season for sturgeon in North Carolina. Any sturgeon caught must be immediately released. A Scientific Fish Collection License is needed to take or collect any aquatic animal for scientific purposes. An Endangered Species Permit is also required in order to take or possess any State or Federally listed endangered, threatened or special concern species for scientific, education, exhibition or other purposes.

Biologists are conducting ongoing research to find out more about population size, spawning migrations, habitat, food requirements, reproductive biology, and early life history. Biologists will use results from the research to conserve and enhance habitat and explore expansion of populations into other areas of the Tennessee River System.

In North Carolina, Lake Sturgeon have been reintroduced into the lower French Broad River downstream of Marshall, in Madison County, where the species has been stocked annually since 2015.