National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Distribution of fish and macrozooplankton in ice-covered and open-water areas of the eastern Bering Sea

De Robertis, A., and E.D. Cokelet

Deep-Sea Res. II, 65–70, 217–229, doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2012.02.005 (2012)

The eastern Bering Sea shelf is a productive ecosystem with extensive commercial fisheries. Although the area is well-studied during summer months, little is known about the abundance and distribution of fish and macrozooplankton during periods of seasonal ice cover. The use of an icebreaker during the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study (BEST) provided a platform for spring acoustic surveys of fish and zooplankton in ice-covered areas for the first time. Icebreaker measurements were complemented with observations from conventional vessels during spring and summer. In spring, very little backscatter from fish (dominated by walleye pollock, Theragra chalcogramma) was observed in the ice-covered northern areas where near-bottom waters were cold (<∼0.5 °C), including areas where walleye pollock are abundant in summer. The majority of fish were observed within 40 km (and often slightly inside) the ice edge over similar seafloor depths as in summer. Together, these observations suggest that pollock, a dominant component of the ecosystem, shift their distribution to a more restricted geographic area in spring, following the ice edge southeast along the bathymetry, away from areas of cold water and extensive ice cover, then reoccupying these areas in summer. In contrast, acoustic backscatter attributed to zooplankton (likely dominated by euphausiids) was more evenly distributed, and less restricted by water temperature and ice cover. The implications of this seasonal shift in fish distribution are uncertain, but this may affect predator–prey interactions by reducing overlap of pollock with euphausiids, an important prey source, while increasing overlap of adult and juvenile pollock and potentially increasing cannibalism.

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