Hudson River PCB Dredging: Impacts on Endangered Sturgeon

A watershed event for Atlantic sturgeon, and for us all, occurred on 6 February, when the Department of Commerce added this ancient fish to the Endangered Species List. The Federal Government now is committed to protecting sturgeon and their habitat… most notably the Hudson River. Loss of habitat is a big part of the problem of loss of sturgeon, as fishing for sturgeon has been prohibited for over a decade, since 1999.

Early life stages of sturgeon including larvae and eggs… ‘caviar’… are susceptible to PCB contamination. According to EPA, “Fragile populations of threatened and endangered species in the Lower Hudson River, represented by the bald eagle and shortnose sturgeon, are particularly susceptible to adverse effects from future PCB exposure.” The Lower Hudson River, below Troy Dam, is where PCBs are flowing from dredge-disturbed sediments in the Upper Hudson River, at Fort Edward.

By “future PCB exposure” EPA meant exposure if dredging does not occur… but dredging is occurring. PCB exposure is increasing as a result, and EPA reported that PCB concentrations in fish tissue in the Upper Hudson River already have increased fivefold, after just a year of dredging. EPA now must reconsider its plan to dredge for five more years in the new context of the ‘endangered’ legal status of Hudson River sturgeon.