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Habitat Assessment & Marine Chemistry Program

Nearshore Fishes of Alaska: An Online Atlas

The Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) task at Auke Bay Laboratories (ABL), using traditional nearshore fish assessments, has now linked years of catch data to the ShoreZone map database. The EFH task has been studying the distribution, relative abundance, and habitat use of commercially important and forage fish species in nearshore waters of Alaska since 1998. Shallow nearshore waters are some of the most productive habitats in Alaska; many Fisheries Management Plan species use nearshore habitats at some point in their life cycle. Alaska has more than 50% of the U.S. coastline; most of this coastline is pristine, but all of it is vulnerable to environmental perturbations and increasing stress from shoreline development. Determining fish utilization of coastal habitats is needed to target which habitats are essential and should be protected.

Nine years of nearshore catch data have been entered into a Fish Atlas database, which is now linked to an existing Arc IMS Alaska ShoreZone Web site at This work has been completed in cooperation with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Alaska Regional Office. The online Fish Atlas will be periodically updated as more information becomes available, as will the ShoreZone database as more mapping and analysis are completed throughout the state.

Presently, the Fish Atlas database contains information on fish assemblages from 68 locations in southeastern Alaska, Prince William Sound, the Aleutian Islands, and the Arctic. At each location, up to four habitat types were sampled, including sand or gravel beaches with no rooted vegetation, cobble beaches with understory kelps (Laminariales), soft bottom (sand, silt, mud) beaches with eelgrass, and steep bedrock outcrops. Nearly 600,000 fish representing 98 species have been captured in 803 beach seine hauls. Some of the most abundant species captured, mostly as juveniles, include walleye pollock, Pacific sand lance, Pacific herring, and salmon.

The ShoreZone/Fish Atlas Web site contains detailed information on shoreline geomorphology, fish distribution, habitat use, fish and site photos, and other biological information (e.g., taxonomic lists, rare species). Scientists, resource managers, and the public will be able to search the Fish Atlas by specific location, habitat type, or fish species, and download data from search results.

The online Fish Atlas 1) provides a quick reference for identifying species occurring in areas designated for development or impacted by human disturbance (e.g., oil spill); 2) allows resource managers to track long-term and large-scale changes in fish distribution and habitat use related to global climate change; and 3) helps resource managers prepare biological opinions and identify habitats essential to different life stages of commercially important and forage fish species. The atlas is available online at

By Scott Johnson


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