Draft Recovery Plan Promotes Recovery of Threatened Green Sturgeon

January 2018

One of Central California’s most ancient fish, the green sturgeon, will soon have a new recovery plan to steer it toward sustainability.

NOAA Fisheries released a draft recovery plan under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for public comment on January 9, 2018. The plan itself is non-regulatory. Rather, it identifies steps to guide state and federal actions that will promote recovery of the green sturgeon’s depressed southern population.

Federal Protection

NOAA Fisheries biologists divide the green sturgeon into two distinct populations segments based on what we know about the species. In 2006, the southern population – covering Central California – was listed as threatened under the ESA. The northern population was more abundant and listing was not warranted at the time.

As part of the ESA protection, NOAA Fisheries has been working with the states of California, Oregon, and Washington, other federal agencies, and non-governmental organizations to identify actions to aid in the recovery of the southern population of green sturgeon.

Draft Plan for Recovery

The recovery plan – which is now open for review and public comment – identifies a number of research, monitoring, and outreach actions aimed at restoring fish passage and habitat, reducing sources of mortality, and addressing known threats including climate change, predation, and contaminants. Most recovery efforts focus on threats to freshwater and estuarine spawning and rearing habitats; the areas that are considered the greatest impediments to recovery.

“The recovery plan is a key step in promoting public awareness of green sturgeon and encouraging participation in restoring the southern population,” says Joe Heublein, a NOAA Fisheries biologist who coordinates the multi-agency recovery effort.

Recovery Takes Patience

Green sturgeon spend most of their lives in nearshore ocean waters off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. Like other sturgeon and salmon species, they are anadromous, meaning they return every few years from the ocean to freshwater rivers to spawn (unlike salmon, sturgeon don’t die after they spawn).

An estimated 1,300 adult green sturgeon remain in Central California. This southern population has declined over the last several decades due largely to both habitat loss and dams that have blocked access to their traditional spawning areas. Most spawning adult sturgeon are found in the Sacramento River. This singular concentration of spawning adults puts the southern population at greater risk of being wiped out by a single catastrophic event.

Further challenging recovery is the fact that green sturgeon are slow to mature. They start reproducing around age 15. Older individuals may live to be over 50 years old, reaching nearly seven feet and weighing more than 350 pounds. Because they are long-lived and slow-growing, scientists may not see evidence of rebounding abundance for years.

To learn more about green sturgeon and review the draft recovery plan, please visit our green sturgeon website. You can share your comments on the draft plan via email at GreenSturgeon.Comments@noaa.gov. We will accept comments through midnight (EST) on March 12, 2018.

Home page photo: Thomas Dunkiln. Used by permission.