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Movement and Out‐Migration of Juvenile Atlantic Sturgeon in Georgia, USA

Adam G. Fox, Douglas L. Peterson
Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 2019 v.148 no.5 pp. 952-962
Acipenser oxyrinchus, anadromous fish, coasts, estuaries, freshwater, juveniles, migratory behavior, rivers, spring, summer, Georgia
Atlantic Sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus, a federally endangered anadromous fish, persist along the East Coast of North America. Despite two decades of federal protection, many populations have yet to fully recover and major knowledge gaps remain, especially in the southern portion of the species’ range. The seasonal movement patterns of river‐resident juveniles (RRJs) are not well understood, and little is known about the transition from the RRJ life stage to the marine‐migratory juvenile (MMJ) life stage. During the summers of 2014–2016 we captured and acoustically tagged age‐1 RRJ Atlantic Sturgeon in the Ogeechee, Altamaha, and Satilla rivers, Georgia, to (1) describe and quantify seasonal movements of RRJ Atlantic Sturgeon in order to identify important estuarine nursery areas and (2) examined temporal patterns of out‐migration in order to better understand the critical transition from RRJ to MMJ in Georgia rivers. Movements of 79 fish were monitored using an array of stationary receivers deployed downstream from the heads of tide in each river system. During the summer months in each river, the fish congregated in upriver, freshwater reaches, but during the winter months they moved downriver and became more broadly distributed. Some fish (36.7%; n = 29) migrated back up their natal river in the spring and remained there as age‐2 RRJs. We observed the out‐migration of 30.4% (n = 24) of age‐2 MMJs only during December–March, based on detections outside their natal river. The results of this study support the assumption of the closure of age‐1 populations that underpins recent quantitative studies of Atlantic Sturgeon recruitment.