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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-AFSC-344

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Fishes and invertebrates in Gulf of Alaska bays and islands: Results from inshore ecosystem surveys in 2011 and 2013


This report provides a comprehensive summary of the inshore ecosystem surveys conducted during 2011 and 2013 as part of the Gulf of Alaska’s (GOA) Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (IERP). The GOAIERP was a large interdisciplinary project with the goal to understand how the GOA environment influences the early survival of juvenile fishes. An essential element of this program was synoptic surveying of inshore and offshore areas in different years and seasons. The work described here addressed the inshore research. Comprehensive fish and invertebrate surveys, as well as oceanographic sampling, were conducted at 11 inshore sites in 2011 and 2013. Two of the sites were islands or island archipelagos and the remainder were embayments of various sizes. Sites were selected based in part on the overall GOAIERP research design that was structured as a comparative study between regions in the eastern and central GOA. Sites were chosen to be representative of the inshore environment of each study region and also to allow comparisons between regions. Surveys were conducted in spring, summer, and fall although fall sampling was limited in both years due to weather and the 2013 shutdown of the federal government. Sampling platforms included a medium-sized chartered vessel in each region equipped for inshore fish sampling and oceanographic work. A 16-ft inflatable skiff was used for nearshore work. Fish sampling was primarily achieved using acoustic surveys and nearshore seine sampling, although small bottom and surface trawls were also conducted. Oceanographic sampling was performed in the nearshore and in the wider inshore waters. Nearshore vegetated habitats included eelgrass and kelps, and most sites had at least some of each habitat type.

Seasonal patterns of temperature and salinity were similar among sites, with warming and freshening of waters during summer. Summer temperatures were similar across sites, but protected bays generally had lower salinities. Acoustic backscatter attributed to either fish or zooplankton based on frequency differences varied substantially among sites, years, and seasons. Fish and zooplankton backscatter increased with bottom depth. Fishes were more abundant in 2013, while zooplankton were more abundant in 2011. Sampling of echosign was limited but typically produced catches of Pacific herring Clupea pallasii, walleye pollock Gadus chalcogrammus, and Sebastes species. Nearshore fish communities were also variable but some common trends were evident. Saffron cod Eleginus gracilis were found only at the central GOA sites, while shiner perch Cymatogaster aggregata occurred only in the east. At most sites there was a strong seasonal pattern in the abundance and composition of nearshore fish species, driven mainly by the appearance of age-0 Pacific cod Gadus macrocephalus, saffron cod, walleye pollock, and Hexagrammos species during the summer. Length data revealed seasonal patterns in the growth of these juvenile fishes and suggested the possibility of different seasonal cohorts for some species. In general, attributes of individual sites appeared to be more important than broad-scale regional differences. The surveys provided substantial evidence for the importance of inshore areas as refuges for fish, particularly early juveniles.

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