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Fish fauna in nearshore waters of a barrier island in the western Beaufort Sea, Alaska


Information on fishes in coastal waters of the Alaskan Arctic is outdated or nonexistent, especially in areas targeted for oil exploration and increased transportation activities. To address this information gap, we sampled fish in nearshore waters of Cooper Island, a barrier island in the western Beaufort Sea, in August 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009, and in September 2009. Fish were captured with a beach seine and bottom trawl (5 and 8 m depths) on the Beaufort Sea side of the island and with a beach seine on the Elson Lagoon side of the island to identify fish distribution, species composition, and habitat use. A total of 2,807 fish representing 16 species were captured in all sampling periods and with both gear types: 1,567 fish representing 14 species were captured in 24 seine hauls, and 1,240 fish representing 9 species were captured in 16 trawl tows. Of the total fish captured by seine from 2004 to 2006, 95% were from the Beaufort Sea (n = 9 hauls) and 4% were from Elson Lagoon (n = 9 hauls). The most abundant fish captured by seine were capelin (Mallotus villosus), Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), juvenile prickleback (Stichaeidae), and juvenile sculpin (Cottidae) in the Beaufort Sea, and least cisco (Coregonus sardinella) and juvenile sculpin in Elson Lagoon. Trawl catch was similar by depth; the most abundant species were Arctic cod and slender eelblenny (Lumpenus fabricii). Of the total fish captured by trawl, 87% were caught in September 2009. Most fish captured were juveniles based on estimated size at first maturity and length frequency distributions. Total catch in the Beaufort Sea was lowest in August 2006; water temperatures were 4-8º C colder in 2006 than in any other year of the study. Species occupying coastal waters of the Beaufort Sea have remained relatively unchanged during the last 25 years; Arctic cod remain a dominant species, whereas capelin appear to be more widespread and abundant. Continued warming conditions in the Arctic Ocean will likely result in a reorganization of nearshore community structure–new fish species are expected to migrate to the Arctic with unknown consequences to existing stocks and food webs.


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