A new federal report on Arctic fish species includes descriptions of 109 marine fish species from the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, including 20 newly confirmed species, providing planners much new information for managing fish populations.
“Alaska Arctic Marine Fish Ecology Catalog: Beaufort and Chukchi Seas,” is a major synthesis and compendium of biological information about marine fishes in the US Arctic. The study focuses on new information collected since the publication of the “Fishes of Alaska” in 2002.
Lead author Lyman Thorsteinson, an emeritus scientist with the US Geological survey, notes that Alaska’s rapidly changing climate is affecting the region’s ecology and economic opportunities in the Arctic.
“The physical and biological qualities of hospitable marine habitats are developing in warming Arctic waters, and, with respect to human developments, previously ice-covered areas are opening and becoming accessible to new exploration,” he said.
The research results from investigators from USGS and the University of California at Santa Barbara was released by USGS and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It summarizes what is known about the natural history of each species and explores adaptations and limitations of fish populations to Arctic environments. The goal is for this information to be useful in directing future research needs and informing natural resource managers about high priority marine fish species, the authors said.
Thorsteinson noted in an email response to questions on the connection between climate change and the 20 newly confirmed species that it would be difficult to assert that newly identified species in the last decade are due to climate changes.
“This is a frontier area where sampling has been largely located in the very nearshore with only very recent systematic surveys conducted very far offshore,” Thorsteinson said.
“What we know about species presence and zoogeography are derived from a variety of surveys which have often been conducted for environmental assessment of offshore oil and gas exploration and development,” he said.
It is a region devoid of commercial fisheries and the present lack of long-term data. New information is development though from recent research supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. New confirmations included in the report came from fieldwork and museum studies conducted in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas since around 2002.
Thorsteinson noted that Pacific influences on the physical and biological oceanography of the region are great. “They include advection of water and biogenic materials and it is likely that certain Bering Sea species associated with the different water masses transported into the region are shifting in their distributions to the north,” he said.