A Handy Field Guide to the Nearshore Marine Fishes of Alaska

October 02, 2015

This guide culminated from years of research on the importance of the nearshore marine environment to fishery resources in Alaska. We were continually astounded by the abundance and diversity of fishes that use the nearshore, particularly the early life history stages of many species. The lack of a portable field guide, and the difficulty in identifying the young of some species in the field, prompted us to create this guide. We hope A Handy Field Guide to the Nearshore Marine Fishes of Alaska is a useful reference for all those interested in the coastal fishes of Alaska.

From 1998 to 2014, researchers with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Auke Bay Laboratories sampled fishes with a beach seine (37 m long, variable mesh) in nearshore marine waters (< 6 m deep, < 20 m offshore) of Alaska. Beach seining was used to identify essential fish habitat (EFH) for all life stages of managed species; EFH is defined as those waters and substrate necessary for breeding, feeding, and growth to maturity (Sigler et al. 2012). Fish catches from 6 coastal regions of Alaska (Fig. 1), encompassing 4 habitats and 129 fish species, are accessible on the Nearshore Fish Atlas of Alaska website (NMFS 2014) hosted by the NMFS Alaska Regional Office. A brief summary of our sampling methods and fish catch, inclusive of all years and regions, are as follows: 1) a total of 746,871 fish were captured in 1,142 seine hauls; 2) most effort (74%) and fish catch (85%) were from June through August; 3) all seining was during daylight hours and within 2 hours of low de; 4) habitats sampled were bedrock, eelgrass (Zostera marina), kelp, and sand (Fig. 2); and 5) not all habitats were sampled in each region. A detailed description of each region, habitat type, and the methods used to capture and process fish is provided in the hardcopy Fish Atlas (Johnson et al. 2012). With this 17-year sampling effort comes a wealth of knowledge on fishes of coastal Alaska (Johnson et al. 2012, NMFS 2014), particularly skills in species identification. Over the years we have taken thousands of photographs of all species and life stages represented in our catches. Correct identification of fishes in the field is of paramount importance when evaluating the potential effects of shoreline development projects on fish habitat, and determining species-level impacts in the natural resource damage assessment process following a disaster (e.g., oil spill).

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 10/22/2018

Habitat Conservation Essential Fish Habitat Nearshore Fish Atlas