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Of Sturgeon and Ships

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Map of the Lower James River, Virginia, with vessel track lines overlaid on the map.

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains an archive of historical vessel position movements, collected through the Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS). Originally designed to improve maritime safety and security, these historical vessel position records have proven to be a valuable resource for a variety of engineers and researchers studying the aquatic world. For example, fishery resource managers with the responsibility of improving multiple sturgeon populations have used historical data from the NAIS to evaluate where fish and vessels might interact. Before sturgeon populations crashed in the late 1800s, harvests along the Atlantic coast were measured in thousands of tons. If sturgeon populations rebound to their historical levels it could mean the renaissance of a commercial and recreational fishery that has been lost for generations. Understanding where sturgeon might be at risk from vessel strikes or propeller cuts is just one small part of a larger conservation and recovery effort around the country. The public can request historical vessel position data through the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center (NAVCEN) online portal. To learn more about sturgeon and efforts to rebuild fish stocks visit the NOAA Fisheries website.

Vessel track lines, James River, VA Vessel tracks through the James River, Virginia. Processed using the AISAP tool developed by USACE-ERDC.


U.S. Coast Guard NAIS and Data Requests:
E. J. Hilton, B. Kynard, M. T. Balazik, A. Z. Horodysky, and C. B. Dillman. 2016. Review of the biology, fisheries, and conservation status of the Atlantic Sturgeon, (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus Mitchill, 1815). Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 32: 30-66.

NOAA Fisheries, Species Directory, Atlantic Sturgeon:

Data.Gov Links related to this topic:

Green Sturgeon Acoustic Monitoring:

White Sturgeon Distribution, Pacific Northwest:

USGS National Hydrography Dataset:

Marin Kress, Research Scientist, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center

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