Elson Lagoon Summer Fishery Study

Principal Investigators Todd Sformo, Craig George
Collaborators Bill Morris (ADFG), Larry Moulton (MJM), BLM, ABR, Inc.
Funding NSB


The Elson Lagoon fishery is an important subsistence resource adjacent to the community of Barrow. Residents deploy gillnets in the Lagoon as soon as there is substantial open water and there is no risk of losing nets in ice flow. Fishers will continue to fish Elson Lagoon with gillnets until freeze-up. Ice fishing occurs on the Lagoon shortly after the ice is safe to walk on. Fishers typically target saffron cod (uugaq) and arctic cod (iqalugaq) during the ice fishing season. Other fish that are harvested are pink salmon (amaqtuuq), chum salmon (iqalugruaq), least cisco (iqalusaaq), broad whitefish (aanaakłiq), and arctic char (paikłuk) . The ice fishing has not been closely monitored but the harvest is captured in the general NSB harvest survey. Then, in the summer of 2006 the NSB Department of Wildlife Management initiated a program to monitor the Elson Lagoon Fishery.

This study is designed to investigate the fishery in the Elson Lagoon, estimate the catch rates and effort, total harvest, identification of species harvested and analyze changes in the fishery. We maintain two fyke nets in Elson Lagoon for our own sampling effort as well as conduct daily net surveys of subsistence fishermen during July and August. We identify the species of the fish, take body length and weight measurements and collect genetic samples (fin clips). Catch rates and total catch are calculated for the season. Water temperature and salinity measurements are also noted.

Summer 2013 Update:

Todd Sformo has been surveying fish species in North Salt Lagoon and Elson Lagoon using a fyke net for the last three summers. This survey will help us better understand the number of species present, size and age distribution, health status of the fish, and the water temperature and salinity. For 2013, over 5,000 fish were caught and released with 14 species identified, mostly least cisco and fourhorn sculpin. Few parasites were observed, and fish appear to be healthy, which is comparable to previous years.

Ernest Nageak holds up Dolly Varden taken from net at Elson Lagoon. Photo: John Seigle



Other studies in Elson Lagoon:

Subsistence Use Surveys

Elson Lagoon Subsistence Fishers Survey

UAF Fisheries graduate student, Shelley Woods Cotton, spent the summers of 2010 and 2011 working with the NSB DWM interviewing subsistence fishers in Barrow. The poster below outlines some of the other experiences that Shelley was able to participate in while working with us. The results of her study should be out by next spring (2012).


Ecology of Forage Fishes in the Arctic Nearshore

Principal Investigators J. Craig George
Collaborators Johanna Vollenweider, Ron Heintz (NOAA), Mark Barton (Florida International University), Leandra de Sousa
Funding NSB Shell Baseline Studies Program


This program was to help better understand the ecology, distribution and abundance of forage fish species that are predated by subsistence species, such as seals and beluga. In particular, the contribution of lagoon systems to these fisheries was investigated. This study came about in response to the North Slope hunter’s concerns about what was happening to the prey of key subsistence species.


Kuk River Sampling Project

Principal Investigators J. Craig George, Todd Sformo
Collaborators William Morris (Alaska Dept of Fish and Game), Lawrence Moulton (MJM Research), John Seigle (ABR, Inc.)
Funding NSB, ADFG


The Kuk is one of the larger rivers flowing into the Chukchi Sea on the North Slope of Alaska that has never been adequately surveyed to document species present and habitat conditions. Residents of Wainwright use the fish resources within the river system. The river is likely to be crossed by pipelines connecting any Chukchi development to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). Industry is also interested in the possibility of dredging the lower Kuk to allow staging of large vessels.

The NSB Dept. of Wildlife Management is collaborating on a survey of fish and habitat conditions in the Kuk this summer. The need and interest in this fish work has been expressed and discussed at various meetings between DWM staff, residents of Wainwright, and NSB Fish & Game Committee members.


NOAA Fish Surveys – Beaufort Sea

Principal Investigators Scott Johnson and John Thedinga, NOAA
Collaborators J. Craig George, Ph.D.
Funding NOAA, NSB


The original objective was to identify fish assemblages that may be disturbed by the addition or removal of beach sediments. We sampled fish with a beach seine at 18 sites near Barrow from August 13–14, 2006; 11 of the sites had been previously sampled in 2004 and 2005. However, the study was continued since very little is known about nearshore marine fish near Barrow. Mean catch per seine haul was greatest at Point Barrow (903 fish, n = 2) and least at Cooper Island (<3 fish, n = 6). The most abundant species captured at the Chukchi Sea sites (Barrow and Point Barrow) were juvenile sculpin (Cottidae) and juvenile cod (Gadidae), whereas the most abundant species captured at the Beaufort Sea sites (Tapkaluk Islands and Cooper Island) were capelin (Mallotus villosus) and Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus). All of these fish are important forage fish for marine mammals and birds. Overall, the most abundant fish captured were juvenile sculpin (Kanayuq) comprising 68% of the total catch, however capelin were found in unexpectedly high concentrations for this latitude. Shallow waters near Barrow provide habitat for at least 17 fish species; most fish that we caught were juveniles. This study provides only a “snapshot”, temporally and spatially, of fish distribution and habitat near Barrow.

Seining in near shore waters and deep water trawling

This study involved sampling near Barrow with beach seine nets, eleven sites sampled in 2004 and fifteen sites sampled in 2005. The studies were continued through 2009 using other funding sources and NSB participation and equipment. Results show that the Chukchi coast and Beaufort Sea near Barrow are important rearing grounds for capelin (Paŋmaksraq), scuplins (Kanayuq) and juvenile arctic cod (Iqalugaq). All of these species are important forage fish for birds and marine mammals. Such coastal spawning/rearing areas are quite vulnerable to oil spills. Thus these areas should receive special protection in the event of a spill.


Using information from this study, and others, NOAA has put together an online Nearshore Fish Atlas and Shorezone Habitat Mapping tool. Using this tool, you can find out where fish were caught and in what type of habitat.

2008 Beaufort Sea Survey

This Cruise Report summarizes the 2008 Beaufort Sea Survey conducted by NOAA and MMS, on July 27-August 30, 2008. This study used bottom trawl surveys, acoustic surveys and oceanographic data in order to estimate the species composition and abundance of the marine fishes and invertebrates in the Beaufort Sea. Results of this survey provided recommendations for future monitoring necessary for any offshore development.


Summary of Fish Survey Data from lagoons, beaches, nearshore, pelagic and shelf habitats in the western Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

Other Surveys:

ADFG Fish Surveys



Colville River Fishery Monitoring


Other Surveys


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