The Delaware River is home to many species, but one pre-historic bony fish, the Atlantic sturgeon, is facing extinction after existing for over 200 million years.
Overfishing and human activity have decimated the Delaware River adult sturgeon spawning population to less than 300, according to Brodhead Watershed Association. The sturgeon has body armor to protect itself from other predators, but not from humans and human action. The Atlantic sturgeon was an apex predator, but humans have been causing their population to decline.
According to Brodhead Watershed Association, sturgeons are among the most endangered group of species on Earth. Overfishing to meet the demand for caviar and increasing amounts of habitat loss, which was most likely dams, caused the populations of the local Atlantic sturgeon to fall below average numbers. The Atlantic sturgeon takes 15 years to reproduce because they have to wait until they mature and return to their home in the Delaware River.
Humans almost negatively impacted the Atlantic Sturgeon population when a dam was proposed for the Delaware River, affecting the local sturgeon population. According to the Brodhead Watershed Association, locals resisted by forming organizations. Nancy Shukaitis was at the forefront of running these groups and organizations. Additionally, they prevented other human activity that would affect the local wildlife.
According to Brodhead Watershed Association, the Delaware River was once known as the “caviar capital of North America.” Roughly 180,000 Atlantic sturgeon females were birthed in the Delaware River. There were over 3 million pounds of sturgeon seized from the River in just over five years in the 1890s. This was indicative of what was to come with overfishing and the impact on the local sturgeon.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “in the United States, more than 2 million dams and other barriers block fish from migrating upstream. As a result, many fish populations have declined.” Some sources point out that less than one-half of one percent of the Atlantic sturgeon exists today.
For over 200 million years, the Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrhynchus) have existed in the waters of the Delaware River, according to Brodhead Watershed Association. These fish and eggs were a bony, ancient, and large size. The local Lenni Lenape have most likely used them as a food source for generations. One of the main reasons humans encamped along the Delaware River was due to having the sturgeons as a consistent source of food to feed their tribes.
Overfishing, human activity, and the caviar business have negatively impacted the populations of this dinosaur-era fish. The Atlantic sturgeon is endangered to an extreme degree.