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Dispatches from the field

Scientists seek out the tiniest catch, larval fish in the Gulf of Alaska


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Larval fish catch from a previous Gulf of Alaska survey  Photo: Ali Deary, NOAA Fisheries

Larval Fish
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May 17, 2017 -- To learn more about big fish, scientists must start from the beginning. That’s why for the next three weeks biologists will be skimming the waters of the western Gulf of Alaska in search of the tiniest catch. They’ll be taking water samples and seeking out larval walleye pollock, sablefish, Pacific cod and flatfishes -- the future of Alaska’s fish stocks.

Every year, our biologists study how many newly hatched fish are in Alaska’s waters, alternating between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. Studying larval fish helps scientists piece together all the factors that influence fish survival.

Only one percent of larval fish survive. But scientists have the potential to make a positive impact on overall fish production by studying larvae. If researchers could increase larval fish survival from one percent to two percent, the overall fish production rate would double, too. That’s why focusing on these very young stages is so important.

With new information, researchers can also better forecast the number of animals that grow to make it into fishermen’s nets and ultimately your plate. Our research focuses on understanding the processes that influence survival and growth in young fishes. Scientists know larvae are sensitive to temperature changes and other oceanic variability but this early stage of life is the least understood. The annual survey is one way we advance our knowledge.

Follow fisheries biologist Ali Deary who will blog about what she’s finding and seeing on the vast gulf.

Meet the Blogger

Ali Deary
Ali Deary

Ali Deary is an East Coast transplant to the Pacific Northwest. While she has been to Alaska as an intern in previous surveys, this research mission is her first as a NOAA employee. Ali graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the College of Charleston and obtained her doctorate in marine science from the College of William and Mary.

For her dissertation, she looked at how bone development influenced foraging in early stage fishes in the Chesapeake Bay. She joined the Ecosystems and Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations team in January. In her free time, Ali enjoys exploring the Seattle area with her corgi.

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