Species Identification

There are over two dozen species of sturgeon, inhabiting both fresh and saltwater environments. This section will look at two types of sturgeon popular to anglers, the Atlantic and white sturgeon.


Atlantic: Snout is protruding (more so than other sturgeon species) and mouth is subterminal with four barbels in front. The have armored plates called scutes instead of scales. Appearance changes considerably with age or size: the snout becomes relatively shorter and blunter, the scutes become smoother, and the lower lobe of the caudal fin becomes relatively longer. Sexes are externally distinguishable only for mature individuals during the spawning season, when females have greatly swollen abdomens full of ripe eggs.White: The body of the white sturgeon is long, roughly cylindrical, and has five rows of bony plates on its back. The snout is bluntly rounded and more or less depressed below the level of the forehead. The mouth is toothless, protruding, and sucker-like. Four fleshy projections, or barbels, extend from the underside of the snout. The fish is overall gray in color. The white sturgeon can be distinguished from the green sturgeon by its overall grey color, 38 to 48 bony plates along the side, a round snout, and the barbels are closer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth.

Maximum Size

Atlantic: Can grow as long as 14 feet (4.3 m) and weigh over 800 pounds (363 kg).White: Largest recorded: 12 feet (3.7 m) and 1,285 pounds (583 kg).However, it is believed sturgeon can grow larger than that by several feet and several hundred pounds.

Geographic Range

Atlantic: The Atlantic sturgeon inhabits the western North Atlantic in fresh, brackish, and saltwater from Labrador and Newfoundland southward to the St. Johns River, Florida. The gulf coast subspecies inhabits rivers entering Gulf of Mexico and southward to the Atlantic coast of Central and northern South America. The species is anadromous, and major centers of abundance are associated with large rivers.White: This species occurs from Ensenada, Baja California, to the Gulf of Alaska. The white sturgeon is the largest fish found in North American freshwaters. The white sturgeon is anadromous, and spends more of its time in the brackish (part salt, part fresh water) waters of bays than in the open ocean. Most anadromous fish spend their adult life in the ocean or brackish water, and spawn up freshwater streams.


Atlantic: Atlantic sturgeon are bottom feeders, using their long snout to dig out benthic creatures such as crustaceans and mollusks from the mud.White: White sturgeon are bottom feeders and their diet consists predominantly of clams, grass shrimp, crabs and herring roe.


Atlantic: Atlantic sturgeon are anadromous: they spawn in freshwater rivers, and the young descend gradually to sea, where they grow and mature.White: White sturgeon are also anadromous. As females age they spawn less, but can produce more eggs.

Information courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey and California Department of Fish and Game.

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