Oct 12 2015

Pacific Bonito and Albacore Tuna Among Non-Native Fish Species Sighted in Alaska’s Warmer Waters

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Copyright © 2015 Seafoodnews.com

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What are you doing here? Unusual fish appear in Alaska

It’s a fascinating time to be an Alaska fish biologist, charter operator or angler. With warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Nino and a phenomenon called “The Blob,” bizarre fish sightings are pouring in from around the state, particularly Southeast.

Scott Meyer, a state fishery biologist based in Homer, is amassing photos from colleagues and boat captains who have hauled in everything from a 900-pound ocean sunfish near Juneau to warm-water thresher sharks off the coast of Yakutat since July.

“It’s unusual to have these fish caught in near-shore fisheries,” Meyer said.

The warm-water mass nicknamed The Blob has been swirling around the Pacific Ocean for the past couple of years and moving north toward Alaska. At the same time, El Nino is in full force this year, a weather pattern characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures. As a result, ocean conditions including temperatures and food sources for fish are changing and species not normally found in state waters are showing up.

The peak of the 2015-2016 El Nino is approaching, with this year’s event among the strongest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Blob has raised temperatures in the North Pacific to record highs of about five to seven degrees Fahrenheit above average, according to NOAA.

Joe Orsi, a federal fisheries biologist in Juneau, said two massive sunfish swam into researchers’ gear in Southeast this summer as they conducted juvenile salmon surveys. Sunfish tend to favor warmer waters than those found in Alaska.

Other unusual reports include Pacific bonito caught in waters off Ketchikan, albacore tuna spotted near Prince of Wales Island, and yellow tail caught near Sitka.

As recently as last Saturday, an ocean sunfish washed ashore outside a lodge in Cordova.

Steve Moffitt, the state biologist who dissected the sunfish, said pilots and fishermen have reported several sightings of sunfish this summer. They were likely chasing the warmer currents and a huge mass of jellyfish that filled the waters around Cordova, he said.

“Sunfish really like to eat jellyfish,” Moffitt said.

California market squid are also starting to spawn in Southeast, Orsi said.

While the usual fish sightings are interesting from a biological perspective, they may be a cause for concern, Orsi said. One of his top questions: if ocean temperatures rise, how will big-money fish like salmon be affected?

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast the Southeast pink salmon harvest in 2015 at 58 million fish, yet fishermen hauled in only about 34 million pinks, according to state records.

Did The Blob and El Nino cause the low catch level? Hard to say definitively but it’s “certainly easy to point the finger at them,” said Dave Harris, Fish and Game’s commercial fishery management biologist in Juneau.

“Those are the most likely suspects,” Harris said.


Copyright © 2015 Seafoodnews.com

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