Sturgeons are primitive fishes with rows of bony, armorlike plates on their sides and a skeleton of cartilage rather than bones. Their tail is heterocercal, the backbone extending into the larger, upper lobe of the tail. This structure is similar to the tail of the shark and some other primitive fishes Four barbels hang under the sturgeon's long, flattened snout in front of the mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, their sensory barbels being used to detect food and their protruded, tubelike mouth, to suck in bottom-dwelling plants and animals uncovered as they move along the mud.
Sturgeon flesh is of good quality, and the roe (eggs) of Atlantic sturgeon is the well-known delicacy caviar. Sturgeon are no longer important commercially, however, because of their scarcity. They are not usually sought by sport fishermen.
Three members of the sturgeon family inhabit New York waters: shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum), lake sturgeon (A. fulvescens), and Atlantic sturgeon (A. oxyrhynchus). The Atlantic sturgeon is anadromous, ascending large rivers and estuaries to spawn. New York's Atlantic sturgeon population is restricted primarily to the Hudson River. Spawning takes place in the spring at the edge of the saltwater front that moves steadily upstream as runoff decreases. The upper end of the spawning area is near Hyde Park.
The shortnose sturgeon is considered endangered and the lake sturgeon is considered to be threatened in New York State. For more information about their legal status, please see the North American Native Fishes Association at http://www.nanfa.org