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Aleutian Islands


The Aleutian Islands are a series of over 300 rocky islands that stretch over 1,000 miles from southwest Alaska to Russia. The Aleutian islands are unique in that they are the westernmost place in the United States, and, because they cross the 180° parallel, they are technically also the easternmost. These islands and their surrounding waters are home to many seabirds, mammals, and fish—lots of fish.

The large numbers of fish attract large numbers of fishermen. The Aleutian Islands are home to the largest fishing port in the USA, Dutch Harbor. Each year nearly a billion pounds of fish are landed at Dutch Harbor, bringing in $150 million dollars. The primary target catch is pollock, but crabs, salmon and groundfish make up a substantial portion of the catch. Groundfish is the general term used for fish that are associated with the seafloor, and are most often caught by bottom trawling, a fishing method in which a large net is dragged across the seafloor, catching all of the fish in its path and destroying seafloor community in the process. Groundfish are often found on deep-sea coral reefs, diverse coral and sponge communities that can survive in cold and deep water without light. Between 1997 and 2001, bottom trawling destroyed over 80 tons of coral in Alaskan waters every year, the very habitat groudfish rely on to grow and multiply.

In order to protect these unique coral communities and the health of the groundfish stocks, over 30,000 square miles of seafloor around the Aleutian Islands were permanently closed to destructive fishing gears in 2005.  Earlier this year, NOAA fisheries created the Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area (AIHCA), most of which is closed to bottom trawling and some of which is closed to all bottom contact fishing. Coming in at just under 280,000 square miles, the Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area is the largest area of protected seafloor in the USA.



Destructive Fishing
Ecological Uniqueness
Economic Importance
Protected Areas



Aleutian Islands - Wikipedia
Aleutian Islands Wilderness
Geology of the Aleutian Islands- National Atlas
Deep Sea News Blog on AIHCA
Volcanoes of the Aleutian Islands - US Geological Survey
Bering Sea: Upheaval on the Edge of the Ice - Seattle Times
Frozen Assets



Deep-sea corals of the Aleutians






Deep sea coral community. Photo: NMFS, Alberto Lindner

Dutch Harbor. Photo: NOAA


Fishing for crabs in the Aleutian Islands. Photo: NOAA