Shortnose Sturgeon in the Gulf of Maine: Use of Spawning Habitat in the Kennebec System and Response to Dam Removal

Gail S. Wippelhauser, Gayle B. Zydlewski, Micah Kieffer, James Sulikowski, Michael T. Kinnison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Abstract: Evidence has become available in this century indicating that populations of the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum migrate outside their natal river systems, but the full extent and functional basis of these migrations are not well understood. Between 2007 and 2013, 40 Shortnose Sturgeon captured and tagged in four Gulf of Maine river systems migrated long distances in coastal waters to reach the Kennebec System where their movements were logged by an acoustic receiver array. Twenty-one (20%) of 104 Shortnose Sturgeon tagged in the Penobscot River, two (50%) of four tagged in the Kennebec System, one (50%) of two tagged in the Saco River, and 16 (37%) of 43 tagged in the Merrimack River moved to a previously identified spawning site or historical spawning habitat in the Kennebec System in spring. Most (65%) moved in early spring from the tagging location directly to a spawning site in the Kennebec System, whereas the rest moved primarily in the fall from the tagging location to a wintering site in that system and moved to a spawning site the following spring. Spawning was inferred from the location, behavior, and sexual status of the fish and from season, water temperature, and discharge, and was confirmed by the capture of larvae in some years. Tagged fish went to a known spawning area in the upper Kennebec Estuary (16 events) or the Androscoggin Estuary (14 events), an historical spawning habitat in the restored Kennebec River (8 events), or two spawning areas in a single year (7 events). We have provided the first evidence indicating that Shortnose Sturgeon spawn in the restored Kennebec River in an historical habitat that became accessible in 1999 when Edwards Dam was removed, 162 years after it was constructed. These results highlight the importance of the Kennebec System to Shortnose Sturgeon throughout the Gulf of Maine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-752
Number of pages11
JournalTransactions of the American Fisheries Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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