Marine fish–-In contrast to our fresh waters, the marine waters of Southeast contain hundreds of fish species. The most common are flatfish, cod, rockfish, sculpins, skates, sablefish, herring, smelt, salmon, char, Pacific sand lance, and stickleback.

The cod family–Pacific cod, Pacific tomcod, walleye pollock–abounds in our marine waters. The Pacific cod is of major commercial importance along the North Pacific coast, where it is marketed for the fresh and frozen market and made into fish sticks. With global cod declines, walleye pollock has been increasingly targeted by domestic and foreign fisheries, especially for popular imitation crab (surimi). These fisheries impact many Alaskan marine mammals and seabirds. A cod look-alike is the commercially important sablefish, or black cod–so fatty it tastes like butter–caught in trawls, in traps, and on longlines

We have around 30 species of rockfish. . . , among the longest-lived and latest-maturing of all fish. Most Southeast species have a maximum age of over 60. As their name implies, many live in reefs and rocky areas.

Sampling of the marine fishes of Southeast Alaska. Not to scale.

Older than us

Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops), nicknamed 'brown bombers.' Unlike the more sedentary reef-dwelling rockfish, this species feeds in surface and midwater schools. Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops), nicknamed ‘brown bombers.’ Unlike the more sedentary reef-dwelling rockfish, this species feeds in surface and midwater schools.

In years leading up to the 3rd edition of The Nature of Southeast Alaska, I grew increasingly concerned about the way industry and managers treat extremely long-lived, basically irreplaceable species. I contacted Kristen Munk, recently retired from a career aging groundfish for the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game. This led to a 3-page sidebar (p 211) called Harvesting longevity. Here’s the section on Groundfish:

‘While salmon are famous for rapid growth and early mortality, most Pacific groundfish–bottom-oriented marine species–generally demonstrate the opposite reproductive strategy. As on land, many of our high-latitude sea creatures grow more slowly and live longer than their counterparts from lower latitudes.

Most fish are aged by examining their sagittal otoliths, a pair of small bones in the inner ear. . . Annuli are counted, as with trees or sectioned animal teeth. Also as in trees, slower growth in later life creates tighter, less-distinct rings. Otolith age-reading is an art as much as a science.

Published studies indicate that Pacific groundfish species of deep, cold water tend to live longer than shallow warm-water species. Quillback rockfish are an important commercial species, sold at fish markets. With a reported longevity of 90 years, quillback can be older than the people eating them! Unfortunately, fish market workers can rarely identify the rockfish species at their counters for the conscientious consumer.’

For more great information on Southeast Alaska’s marine fishes, check out Bob Armstrongs naturebob site, under the tab Links & resources. Scroll down to Fish. Most of these publications are directly downloadable from naturebob.

In this section

Heron fishing

Cathy Pohl filmed this great blue heron fishing for crescent gunnels on the delta of Dzantik’i Héeni, little flounder creek…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 1 page

Common Sea Life of Southeastern Alaska

This full-color, 170-page guide to invertebrates and selected fish of our region covers everything from soft corals to rockfish. †In…

2015 | Aaron Baldwin|Paul Norwood | 170 pages