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June 20, 2004

Mystery Alaska Fish

I own a charter-fishing business on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. One of my clients caught this fish in 240 feet of water while halibut fishing in the open Pacific, west of Baker Island. No one locally could identify it.

Q: I own a charter-fishing business on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. One of my clients caught this fish in 240 feet of water while halibut fishing in the open Pacific, west of Baker Island. No one locally could identify it. The water here has warmed up over the past several years, and we're catching fish that normally come from southern waters. Can you identify it? -- Capt. Otto Greene, Klawock, Alaska

A: Ironically, you have to look north and west to find this species in abundance. Your passenger caught an Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius), a relative of lingcod and greenlings. A schooling species found mostly in the Aleutian Islands, this fish migrates into shallow waters during the summer to spawn. Males then guard the adhesive eggs. A pretty-good-sized commercial fishery uses trawlers to target Atka mackerel. Sport anglers working the Aleutians also catch numbers of them. Atka mackerel are not in any way related to true mackerel; they got their name in the 19th century when the area's early settlers found massive numbers of these, salted them down and fancied that they tasted like East Coast mackerel. -- Milton Love