While NPRB-funded field work ended last year, NOAA carries on Gulf of Alaska studies this year
by Wyatt Fournier
The NPRB funded field component of the GOAIERP finished in 2013 but work has continued with funding from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. This year the survey grid was extended so that stations could be occupied from Cross Sound north to Yakutat Bay. As in years past, a full suite of fisheries and oceanography samples are being collected to observe young of the year groundfish and to describe their epi-pelagic habitat. One of our target fish is sablefish, sometimes called “black cod” although it is not a true cod. This elusive fish has been rare in our surface trawl catches until this year. While occupying stations offshore from Yakutat and within the deep Yakutat Valley we have encountered large catches of juvenile sablefish. These individuals range from 160-180mm and are most likely Age 1. Although we are more interested in young of the year specimens, these juveniles have never been observed in such large aggregations offshore.
As we continued to sample 90 miles offshore in front of Yakutat Bay, we had an even bigger surprise, an ocean sun fish!! The ocean sunfish (Mola mola) is the heaviest known bony fish in the world and has an average adult weight of 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). The species is native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe and has been observed only a few times in the waters of Alaska. This individual was just less than two meters in length and was returned to the sea, alive and well.