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Recruitment Processes Program

Gulf of Alaska, Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (GOA IERP)

Gulf of Alaska map, see caption  
Figure 1.

The Recruitment Processes Program, as part of its Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (FOCI) and North Pacific Climate Regimes and Ecosystem Productivity projects, began preparations for the 2011 spring field season. One of the major efforts is participation in the NPRB and NOAA sponsored Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (GOA IERP).

Our research group, with specific expertise in fish early life history and lower trophic level research, is a partnering with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Western Washington University to describe physical forcing and lower trophic level processes that affect the survival and recruitment of five fish species walleye pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, arrowtooth flounder, and Pacific ocean perch.

Our first research cruise will occur in April on the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson concentrating on processes and mechanisms in the southeastern portion of the Gulf of Alaska. The cruise will collect ichthyoplankton samples in three major areas (Fig. 1):  Southeast Alaska , Yakutat Bay, and between Kodiak Island and Resurrection Bay.

Members of the Recruitment Processes Program are also contributing expertise to GOA IERP in the analysis of existing data on fish larvae and physical forcing. We also are helping to construct new biophysical, numerical models that will test hypotheses about what mechanisms determine the advection of fish larvae to favorable nursery areas.

Climate and Ecosystems

The Program partners with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory to conduct the North Pacific Climate Regimes and Ecosystem Productivity project. This project successfully submitted a proposal to Adaptations 2011 to present a case history on how climate and environmental data are used in marine resource management decisions in Alaska.

The conference, to be held in the Washington D.C. area, features case histories of how resource management decisions in the United States are incorporating information about climate fluctuations and climate change into their decisions. The Alaska fisheries case history is currently the only marine example scheduled for the conference.

Ichthyoplankton Identification

The Recruitment Processes Program successfully determined the identity of an unknown fish larva that had been captured at low concentrations in numerous tows along the continental shelf break in the eastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The identity of this small, (4-7 mm) dark black fish larva had eluded biologists for many years.

flabby sculpin larva
Figure 2.  Larva of the flabby sculpin (Zesticelus profundorum).

Recently the Program applied molecular genetics techniques (DNA barcoding), to determine that these specimens were the larvae of the flabby sculpin (Zesticelus profundorum) (Fig. 2).

Program scientists have completed a formal description of the larva's morphological characteristics so that other scientists and students will be able to identify it in their own plankton tows.

By Jeffrey Napp

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