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Atka Mackerel Research

hands holding Atka mackerel

Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius) is a schooling, semi-demersal species distributed from the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, throughout the Komandorskiye and Aleutian Islands, north to the Pribilof Islands, and eastward through the Gulf of Alaska to Southeast Alaska. Their center of abundance has been in the Aleutian Islands region, particularly from Buldir Island to Sequam Pass.

small atka mackerel

Click for underwater
nesting videos

Atka mackerel begin to recruit to the fishery at age 2 and many survive to 14 years. Fifty percent of the female population is estimated to have reached maturity at 31 cm (about 3.6 years old).  Atka mackerel migrate from the shelf edge to shallow coastal waters (5-30 m) to spawn. Spawning occurs in July -September along the Aleutian Islands. Eggs are adhesive and deposited in rock crevices. These nest are guarded by the males until hatching, which occurs about 40-45 days later. Atka mackerel eat copepods and euphausiids and, in turn, are prey for other fish, seabirds, Steller sea lions, and other marine mammals.

The patterns of the Atka mackerel fishery generally reflect the behavior the the species:

  • the fishery is highly localized and usually occurs in the same few locations each year
  • the schooling semi-demersal nature of the species makes if particularly susceptible to trawl gear fished on the bottom
  • trawling occurs almost exclusively at depths less than 200 m.

Atka mackerel are a very difficult fish to survey because:

  • they do not have a swim bladder, making them poor targets for hydroacoustic surveys
  • they prefer hard, rough and rock bottom which makes sampling with standard survey bottom trawl gear difficult
  • their schooling behavior and patchy distribution make the species susceptible to large variances in catches, which greatly affect area-swept estimates of biomass

During 2015, pollock made up 67% of the total groundfish catch off Alaska.  The pollock catch for 2015 was 1,490,780 metric tons (t), up approximately 3% from 2014.

The 2015 catch of flatfish, which includes yellowfin sole, rock sole and arrowtooth flounder, was 245,860 t or 11% of the total 2015 Alaska groundfish catch, down about 24% from 2014.

Pacific cod accounted for 321,100 t or 14.4% of the total 2015 Alaska groundfish catch. The Pacific cod catch was down about 4% from 2014.

Other important species (% of total 2015 catch and % change from 2014) are:  Atka mackerel 54,500 t (2.4%, up 70%), sablefish 11,690 t (.05%, down 5%), and rockfish 668,660 t (3%, up 6%).

Recent Atka Mackerel Publications, Poster Presentations, & Research Activities

  • McDERMOTT, S. F., V. HAIST, and K. M. RAND. 2016. Evaluating the efficacy of trawl exclusion zones by estimating local Atka mackerel abundance and movement patterns in the central and eastern Aleutian Islands. Mar. Coastal Fish. 8:334-349.  Online.
  • McDERMOTT, S. F., D. W. COOPER, J. L. GUTHRIDGE, I. B. SPIES, M. F. CANINO, P. WOODS, and N. HILLGRUBER. 2011. Effects of maternal growth on fecundity and egg quality of wild and captive Atka mackerel. Mar. Coastal Fish. 3:324-335. (.pdf, 848 KB).  Online.
  • RAND, K. M., and S. A. LOWE. 2011. Defining essential fish habitat for Atka mackerel with respect to feeding within and adjacent to Aleutian Islands trawl exclusion zones. Mar. Coastal Fish. 3:21-31. (.pdf, 1.39 MB).  Online.
  • COOPER, D., and S. McDERMOTT. 2011. Seasonal, small-scale distribution of Atka mackerel in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, with respect to reproduction. Mar. Coastal Fish. 3:10-20. (.pdf, 2.35 MB).  Online.
  • Local Abundance and Movement of Atka Mackerel and Other Steller Sea Lion Prey in the Aleutian Islands
    Conference:  Alaska Marine Science Symposium, Anchorage, AK, Jan 2016
    (2016 poster, .pdf, 866 KB)   Online.

  • Opportunistic Use of a Towed Stereo Video System Taking Advantage of Pre-existing Platforms During Atka Mackerel Tagging Research
    Conference:  American Fisheries Society, 145th Annual Meeting, Portland, OR, Aug 2015
    (2015 poster, .pdf, 6.17 MB)   Online.

  • FIT Staff Conducts Successful Atka Mackerel Tag Recovery Cruise in the Aleutian Islands

  • Successful Atka Mackerel Tagging Cruise in the Western Aleutian Islands

  • Related AFSC research program reports and activities: Atka mackerel
  • Additional publications, posters, and reports.

(Source: 2005 North Pacific Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Reports for 2006.)

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