Project title

A re-emergent spawning population of Atlantic Sturgeon in the Connecticut River? Combined age analyses and telemetry data will provide new insights.

Funded by:

Connecticut Sea Grant Program (NOAA)

Project members:

Hannes Baumann (Lead-PI)
Kelli Mosca (M.S. student)

Our co-PIs from CTDEEP:

  • Tom Savoy
  • Jacqueline Benway
  • Deborah Pacileo

Project duration/funding:
Feb 2020 - Feb 2022 ($150,000)

The potential re-emergence of spawning Atlantic sturgeon in the Connecticut River would be a major and highly welcome achievement of decades of conservation efforts by state agencies. But to corroborate this development and to ensure its further success, existing age and telemetry data need to be analyzed now and taken into consideration.

1. On 28 September 2021, a juvenile Atlantic sturgeon caught in the Connecticut River is being checked for any previously implemented tags 2. Juvenile or sub-adult sturgeon are being measured for fork and total length using a measuring board 3. CTDEEP researcher Jacque Benway inserts a PIT tag into an sub-adult Atlantic sturgeon 4. Subadult sturgeon on a wet tarp before being released into wild again 5. All sturgeon are measured for mouth gape and head width 6. All sturgeon are being weighed with a gentle contraption 7. Master student Kelli Mosca with an adult sturgeon (all images by Jacob Snyder, RedSkiesPhotography)

This project utilizes sampling and monitoring efforts already undertaken by CTDEEP, e.g., by fully preparing, imaging and analyzing pectoral fin spine sections of over 150 Atlantic sturgeons and by comprehensively analyzing all existing acoustic telemetry data to characterize habitat use and reproductive behavior. Determining age and growth distributions of Atlantic sturgeon will yield important biological data, while identifying high occupancy areas will aid in their protection and sustainable use. This proposal enhances collaborative ties between a state government agency (CT DEEP) and academic institution (University of Connecticut), while facilitating the next career step for a dedicated graduate student.
Sturgeon sampling by CTDEEP staff in the CT River
Atlantic sturgeon fin ray part mounted for sectioning
Sectioning of mounted fin spine
Sturgeon fin spine sections on glass slide

Objective 1 will analyze sections of sturgeon pectoral fin spines, collected 1988-2019. Annuli will be marked and measured in calibrated digital images. Population age-length relationships will be derived and longitudinal measurements used to reconstruct individual growth curves. Comparisons to published values will test for the occurrence of possible mature spawners in the collection.

Objective 2 will analyze >2 million detections of acoustically tagged Atlantic sturgeons. We will perform hotspot analyses to identify overall areas of high seasonal occupancy and analyze individual movement profiles. Meta-data such as length/weight, temperature, river discharge and habitat characteristics will also be included.

Objective 3 will target historic and newly identified sites to actively search for spawning Atlantic sturgeon. We will use short-term deployments of large mesh gill nets to capture mature, pre-spawned Atlantic sturgeon.