Atlantic sturgeon in Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere will be designated an endangered species, federal regulators announced Tuesday.
Effective April 6, the listing will provide greater protection for the dinosaur-like fish and may add irksome regulations to the commercial fishing industry.
Once common throughout the bay and Atlantic coast, sturgeon are known for their bony plates, called scutes. They live in saltwater and freshwater, can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds.
Prized for their eggs, which sold as caviar, and their skin, which was worked as leather and turned in clothing, book-binding and other products, sturgeon were heavily fished during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Fishing, combined with loss of habitat, pollution and ship strikes, decreased the population, leading Virginia to outlaw commercial harvesting in 1974. A national ban followed in 1998.
Despite the protection, sturgeon have been slow to recover. A 2007 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which made Tuesday's announcement, said there were fewer than 300 spawning females in the James River.
Scientists say because sturgeon can live for 60 years, they are slow to reproduce.
In addition to the Chesapeake, the endangerment listing includes four other distinct population segments, according to a NOAA statement. A sixth segment, in the Gulf of Maine, will be listed as threatened.
Jack Travelstead, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission fisheries chief, told the Daily Press last year that an endangered listing could lead to restrictions on the state's gill- and pound-net fisheries, both of which are responsible for millions of dollars of fish landed annually in Virginia.