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What’s that fish? — New field guide helps identify fish captured along West Coast

By Al Brown

Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Published on January 1, 2018 9:10AM

The slender snipe eel is found all the way from the Gulf of Alaska down the coast to South America, from the surface to a depth of more than 14,000 feet. They grow to 4.25 feet in length. They are among hundreds of species that may be encountered in the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast that are pictured and described in a new online guidebook that serves as an amazing testimonial to our planet’s biological diversity.

Survey Fishes

The slender snipe eel is found all the way from the Gulf of Alaska down the coast to South America, from the surface to a depth of more than 14,000 feet. They grow to 4.25 feet in length. They are among hundreds of species that may be encountered in the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast that are pictured and described in a new online guidebook that serves as an amazing testimonial to our planet’s biological diversity.

Red Irish lords range from the Bering Sea to Monterey Bay in tidepools out to a depth of around 160 feet. They grow up to about 1.5 feet long.

Survey Fishes

Red Irish lords range from the Bering Sea to Monterey Bay in tidepools out to a depth of around 160 feet. They grow up to about 1.5 feet long.

The northern seadevil is widely distributed in the North Pacific at depths of 400 to 11,000 feet. They measure up to 5 feet long.

Survey Fishes

The northern seadevil is widely distributed in the North Pacific at depths of 400 to 11,000 feet. They measure up to 5 feet long.

Canary rockfish, a popular commercial species in our area, range up to about 2.5 feet in length.

Survey Fishes

Canary rockfish, a popular commercial species in our area, range up to about 2.5 feet in length.

Barreleyes inhabit waters from the Bering Sea to the South Pacific off Chile. They max out at about half a foot long.

Survey fishes

Barreleyes inhabit waters from the Bering Sea to the South Pacific off Chile. They max out at about half a foot long.


NEWPORT — Dan Kamikawa’s “Survey Fishes” is a new 453-page field guide for professionals and the general public, designed to help anyone identify the remarkable diversity of fish species living in America’s western coastal waters.


How to ID a fish


“Survey Fishes,” just published as a NOAA Fisheries technical memorandum — available in its entirety online at tinyurl.com/Survey-Fishes — is a comprehensive guide to just about anything you might catch anywhere along the U.S. West Coast — from bat rays to sea lizards, from fringeheads to arrowtails, from greenblotched rockfish to red Irish lords.

Kamikawa is a research fisheries biologist with the Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring (FRAM) Division at the Newport Research Station in Oregon.

“The idea was, we wanted to publish something we could use out on the back deck of a boat,” Kamikawa said. “There are other guides, but they’re full of species we never see. This guide is keyed to what we’re most likely to find on our surveys. It’s meant to be useful for survey work, without being so technical that you need a Ph.D. to use it.”

The book is organized around a series of descriptive keys, a type of index that proceeds in couplets to help readers identify fish to their species. The main key in the front of the book will help readers identify the family. More detailed descriptions, keys, and hundreds of photographs throughout the book help further refine the search.

Or as Kamikawa put it, “You start at number 1, work your way through the keys, and if it’s there, you find your fish!”


Career’s worth of knowledge


Kamikawa has been with FRAM Division since 1995. A major portion of his job is to assist in the planning and conducting of the annual West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey. During the field season that spans from late April through October, he spends 60 to 100 days at sea on various surveys off the West Coast and occasionally Alaska, collecting biological data on the fish and invertebrates captured in the survey nets. [Dozens of the survey-grid locations are in the waters off Pacific and Clatsop counties.]

Kamikawa credits his extensive knowledge about these species to his early years conducting surveys with the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. It was during these surveys that he had the privilege of learning from some of the best taxonomists in the field. His new field guide represents the culmination of his work so far, a career’s worth of knowledge in one book.


Species don’t stay put


The guide focuses on those species that have been caught in surveys. But the surveys may not have caught every species that’s out there yet. And with the variability of our changing oceans, new species may eventually pass through or move in from other parts of the ocean.

So what if someone catches or discovers a fish they aren’t able to identify using the guide?

“Send me an email!” Kamikawa said. “I get requests to identify species all the time, from up and down the West Coast. Just take good clear photos, jot down any relevant information like where it was caught or found, and send it to me. I’ll do my best to get you an answer.”

Kamikawa can be reached at dan.kamikawa@noaa.gov.



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