Critical Foraging Habitat of Atlantic Sturgeon Based on Feeding Habits, Prey Distribution, and Movement Patterns in the Saco River Estuary, Maine

Ashleigh J. Novak, Amy E. Carlson, Carolyn R. Wheeler, Gail S. Wippelhauser, James A. Sulikowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

An overall lack of information prompted the recent listing of Atlantic Sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus under the Endangered Species Act. Key to the restoration of the species and of particular importance is the need to characterize the use of critical habitat across the region, specifically in the Gulf of Maine, where the population was listed as threatened. Much of the research to date has focused on large river systems able to support remnant spawning populations; however, the role of small coastal river systems for Atlantic Sturgeon is not well documented. Several of these systems are being reinhabited, and to facilitate new knowledge about the Gulf of Maine population, a long-term (2009–2014) acoustic telemetry study for 51 Atlantic Sturgeon tagged in the Saco River was evaluated. Results suggested that the majority of fish were aggregating near the natural mouth of the estuary across the 6 years. Gastric lavage samples from 163 (91 juvenile and 72 adult) fish (65.0–171.5 cm fork length) during 2013 and 2014 demonstrated that American Sand Lance Ammodytes americanus was the most common prey (the index of relative importance for 2013 and 2014 was 93.5% and 85.4%, respectively), a finding unique to this river system. In addition, benthic sediment grabs, beam trawls, otter trawls, and beach seines conducted in 2013 and 2014 indicated that the distribution of American Sand Lances was comparable to the aggregation area observed for Atlantic Sturgeon. The combined results suggest that the Saco River estuary provides critical foraging habitat imperative for the future recovery of the Gulf of Maine Atlantic Sturgeon population. Received May 24, 2016; accepted November 17, 2016 Published online February 15, 2017

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-317
Number of pages10
JournalTransactions of the American Fisheries Society
Volume146
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 4 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science

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