WAMC New York News
4:14 pm
Thu February 9, 2012

Endangered Atlantic Sturgeon Could Affect Tappan Zee and Indian Point

Poughkeepsie, NY – The Atlantic sturgeon has been declared an endangered species by federal officials, a decision that could lead to moves to protect its habitats, including those in the Lower Hudson River. Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

The National Marine Fisheries Service "Endangered Species" ruling covers Sturgeon in a broad area stretching from the Gulf of Maine to the South Atlantic which includes the Hudson and Delaware Rivers.

Atlantic Sturgeon possess a lineage extending back to the age of dinosaurs. Kathy Hattala is a fisheries biologist with the Hudson River Fisheries Unit. She explains Sturgeon spawn in the fresh-water portion of the Hudson Estuary. Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay says the ruling on the Sturgeon could impact programs to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge, the re-licensing of Indian Point, and the proposal to construct a desalination plant on Haverstraw Bay to provide water to Rockland County.

Sturgeon can grow up to 15 feet long, weigh hundreds of pounds, and live a century - fish tagged in the mid-Hudson have been found as far away as Canada to the North and in the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, says its too soon for people to be talking about shutting specific projects down. She admits that studying the Sturgeon in order to fully discover the level of threat against the species could take months, if not years.

Paul Gallay criticized the desalination proposal as "poorly planned", and he points out that there are alternatives to relying on Indian Point for power, and more effective ways of dealing with the Tappan Zee bridge.

Government records dating around 1890 reveal an estimated 6-thousand female sturgeon spawned in the Hudson River, compared to around 600 today. Kathy Hattala says the recent federal ruling adds clout to measures already in place protecting Sturgeon in New York State.

Environmental advocates say there are additional issues impacting the river, such as the threat of fracking and disposal of its toxic waste, failing water and wastewater treatment infrastructure causing sewage spewing into the river, and invasive species like zebra mussels that have had major impacts on the ecology of the estuary.