Background: More fish have been afforded US Endangered Species Act protection than any other vertebrate taxonomic group, and none has been designated as recovered. Shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) occupy large rivers and estuaries along the Atlantic coast of North America, and the species has been protected by the US Endangered Species Act since its enactment.
Methodology/principal findings: Data on the shortnose sturgeon in the Hudson River (New York to Albany, NY, USA) were obtained from a 1970s population study, a population and fish distribution study we conducted in the late 1990s, and a fish monitoring program during the 1980s and 1990s. Population estimates indicate a late 1990s abundance of about 60,000 fish, dominated by adults. The Hudson River population has increased by more than 400% since the 1970s, appears healthy, and has attributes typical for a long-lived species. Our population estimates exceed the government and scientific population recovery criteria by more than 500%, we found a positive trend in population abundance, and key habitats have remained intact despite heavy human river use.
Conclusions/significance: Scientists and legislators have called for changes in the US Endangered Species Act, the Act is being debated in the US Congress, and the Act has been characterized as failing to recover species. Recovery of the Hudson River population of shortnose sturgeon suggests the combination of species and habitat protection with patience can yield successful species recovery, even near one of the world's largest human population centers.