Vertical movement patterns and habitat use of burbot in Tanada and Copper Lakes, Alaska

Project Description

Burbot abundance is typically estimated using mark-recapture experiments, a design which prohibits using traps deeper than >= 15 m to protect fish from decompression trauma. However, this approach assumes that a representative sample of the population is collected and that complete vertical mixing occurs between sampling events. For all burbot lakes studied within the Copper River drainage of Alaska, these assumptions have never been fully evaluated because the behavior and vertical movements of burbot have never been fully assessed. This project proposes to: (1) determine if burbot in Tanada and Copper lakes express differences in thermal and depth habitat preferences; and (2) use recorded movements of burbot surgically implanted with archival data loggers (time-depth-temperature) to evaluate the sampling design for a two-sample mark-recapture experiment due to burbot behavior relative to depth. Preliminary findings from tags recovered in summer 2010 at Tanada Lake indicate that there is a percentage of fish that are not within the study area during optimal sampling dates (September before ice up). This may indicate that current management strategies are missing a portion of the burbot population within this lake. With many Alaskan lakes, and especially Tanada and Copper lakes, the bathymetry (depths > 15 m) can preclude large sections of the lake from being sampled and, in these cases, the experiment relies heavily on mixing between events to attain a representative sample in the second event. In either lake, there exists the possibility of fish permanently residing at depths > 15 m, which would lead to any abundance estimates being biased. Recent developments of smaller high-capacity archival data loggers that record depth and temperature have permitted refined investigations of vertical movements and thermal-use patterns.

Project Funding

National Park Service
Amount: $39,150
Start Date: 2009-01-00
End Date: 2015-12-00


Publications and products

Scannell, H., K. Wuttig, and T. M. Sutton. (2013). "Using archival tags to evaluate the vertical movements, activity level, and thermal habitat selection of burbot in Tanada and Copper lakes". Alaska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society Meeting, October 2013, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Scannell, H. L., T. M. Sutton, and K. Wuttig. (2011). "Vertical movements and thermal habitat utilized by burbot in Copper and Tanada lakes, Alaska". Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Annual Research Review, March 2011, Fairbanks, Alaska

Scannell, H. L., T. M. Sutton, and K. Wuttig. (2010). "Vertical movements and thermal habitat use by burbot in Copper and Tanada Lakes, Alaska". Alaska Chapter of the American Fisheries Society Meeting, November 2010, Juneau, Alaska.


Research Team

Trent Sutton

Trent Sutton

Principal Investigator

Associate Dean of Academic Programs; Professor



Full Profile
Co-Principal Investigators

Klaus Wuttig
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Division of Sport Fish


Research Staff

Heather Scannell
Master's Degree Graduate Student
University of Alaska Fairbanks
College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
Fisheries Division