Whether you’re angling for them or eating them, fish play a central role in Alaska life. But the impact of Alaska’s fish and seafood extends far beyond the state’s borders. More than half the fish caught in U.S. waters are caught in Alaska. Additionally, Alaska exports more than $3 billion worth of seafood annually to the lower 48, China, Japan, Europe, South Korea, and Canada—among other locations.

Since seafood is so vital to Alaska, it only seems appropriate to offer you a guide to the 16 most popular fish in the state. This guide can serve as a wish list for an angler who wants to land the widest variety of fish available. It can also serve as a must-eat guide for seafood lovers who prefer to order their fish off a menu, rather than catch their own.

Let’s start with the first fish people think of when they think of Alaska.

#1-5: Alaska Salmon (Of Course!)

Freshwater or Saltwater? Both; salmon are anadromous

Anadromous: Fish that migrate between freshwater streams and the ocean. Salmon hatch in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to breed.

King Salmon / Chinook Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Size: 30-55 inches
Characteristics: High fat content and delicate flavor profile; a favorite of many!

King salmon are the largest of Alaska’s salmon varieties, and they’ve been known to give anglers a serious run for their money. In addition to being highly prized by diners, king salmon (also known as Chinook salmon) have the honor of being Alaska’s state fish.

Sockeye Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus nerka
Size: 18-24 inches
Characteristics: Thinner filets with firm, bright red flesh. Be careful not to overcook!

About 46% of the world’s population of sockeye salmon lives in Bristol Bay, Alaska in the southwestern part of the state. Sockeye is often more affordable than king salmon, so it’s a popular fish. While some find the taste of sockeye a little fishy, others relish its unique flavor.

Silver Salmon / Coho Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus kisutch
Size: 24-28 inches
Characteristics: Milder flavor, good for those who don’t like “fishy” fish.

If you’re an angler looking for a challenge, silver salmon are known to put up a pretty good fight. Although silver salmon also live in Washington and Oregon, more than 90% of the annual silver salmon harvest comes from Alaska.

Chum Salmon / Dog Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus keta
Size: 24-32 inches
Characteristics: Lighter in color and oil content than other salmon varieties.

Chum salmon play an important role in Arctic, Northwestern, and Interior Alaska. There, these fish are dried and stored for sustenance during the long, cold Alaska winters. As for their canine nickname, chum salmon were once the main food for northern sled dogs.

Pink Salmon / Humpback (“Humpy”) Salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus gorbuscha
Size: 15-24 inches
Characteristics: The smallest of all the salmon varieties, best consumed fresh.

You’ll most often see pink salmon on the shelf—in a can. Pink salmon catch is most often used for canned salmon, although these fish can also be delicious when they’re fresh-caught. Since they’re easy to reel in, they’re perfect for young, aspiring fisherfolk.

Want to go deeper on Alaska salmon? Check out our article on the five varieties of Alaska salmon, including when to fish for them and how to cook them.


Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss
Freshwater or Saltwater? Both; anadromous
Size: Up to 40+ inches
Characteristics: Milder flesh, less fatty than some salmon varieties.

Steelhead and rainbow trout are technically the same species, but they live very different lives. Like salmon, steelhead migrate from fresh water to the ocean to live the majority of their lives, and then return to their birthplaces to spawn. Scientists aren’t quite sure if these fish are more like salmon or trout, although current thinking is leaning toward the latter. Whatever their classification, anglers can fish for steelhead either in the spring or the fall, offering lots of possibilities for extending your fishing season in Alaska.

Rainbow Trout

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss
Freshwater or Saltwater? Mostly reside in fresh water
Characteristics: Tender, flaky flesh that’s less “fishy” than other varieties.

Rainbow trout, in contrast to steelhead, spend their entire lives in freshwater environments, although they may drift toward coastal areas. Because they’re the same species as steelhead, they can look quite similar during much of their lifetimes. However, their differing environments create some differences, including the fact that rainbow trout are often much smaller than steelhead. Both make for great eating!

Fun Fact: What do you call a group of rainbow trout? A hover

Sablefish / Black Cod

Scientific Name: Anoplopoma fimbria
Freshwater or Saltwater? Saltwater
Size: Up to 40 inches
Characteristics: Mild, white, flaky fish with a delicate flavor.

Sablefish enthusiasts describe a melt-in-your mouth texture to this fish, also known as black cod. If you’re hoping to catch your own in Alaska, you’re going to need a bigger boat. Sablefish can live at depths of 450–4500 feet at maturity. Considering that Chef Nobu Matsuhisa deemed black cod worthy of a central role on the Nobu menu, we’d say it’s a fish that’s well worth the effort.

Arrowtooth Flounder

Scientific Name: Atheresthes stomias
Freshwater or Saltwater? Saltwater
Size: Up to 34 inches
Characteristics: Unfortunately, the fish contains an enzyme that often makes it extremely mushy when cooked.

Although this fish is one of the most abundant in the Gulf of Alaska, it’s not one we’d recommend for eating. Since overfishing has depleted certain fish stocks, the seafood industry is always looking for other options for consumers. A few years ago, this fish was sold in Wal-Mart, with disastrous results. If you’re offered arrowtooth flounder in Alaska, we’d recommend you skip it.


Scientific Name: Ophiodon elongatus
Freshwater or Saltwater? Saltwater
Size: Up to 5 feet
Characteristics: Firm, white, and flaky, similar to halibut or cod.

Lingcod can grow to a massive 80 pounds at the height of their maturity and live as long as 25 years. While this fish may not be the handsomest (did we mention it has a mouthful of sharp teeth?!), plenty of people enjoy eating lingcod, especially breaded and fried as part of a plate of fish and chips.

Pacific Halibut

Scientific Name: Hippoglosses stenolepis
Freshwater or Saltwater? Saltwater
Size: Up to 400 pounds
Characteristics: Mild, sweet, and firm. Because of their size, halibut can be quite a challenge for anglers.

While Pacific halibut can look like arrowtooth flounder, you don’t want to get the two mixed up. Halibut is a chef’s dream, with mild, white flesh that won’t clash with most any ingredients you might throw at it. Instead, halibut soaks up the flavors around it, and can make for a fantastic, pan-seared meal. Contrast that with the mushy arrowtooth flounder, and you’ll see why fish identification makes a huge difference!

Northern Pike

Scientific Name: Esox lucius
Freshwater or Saltwater? Freshwater
Size: Up to 4 feet
Characteristics: A versatile white fish great for eating, but requires careful cleaning to remove all the bones.

Anglers looking to land a Northern pike should head to the Yukon River, the summer feeding grounds for this fish. While Northern pike are native to a great deal of Alaska, they’re considered invasive in the Southcentral region. Pike are well-known voracious fish-eaters, so the presence of Northern pike in Southcentral Alaska threatens many other species, including salmon. If you spot a Northern pike anywhere south of the Alaska Range, report it to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

Arctic Grayling

Scientific Name: Thymallus arcticus
Freshwater or Saltwater? Freshwater
Size: Up to 24 inches
Characteristics: White, flaky flesh, best prepared fresh.

Although some find the flesh of the arctic grayling to be less firm than ideal, others argue that this fish deserves top taste honors among freshwater fish in Alaska. One of the best ways to enjoy this fish is during a shore lunch. Maybe it’s the whole experience that makes the arctic grayling so tasty, but we think this theory is worthy of further investigation.


Scientific Name: Members of the Sebastes genus

You’ll find more than 30 species of rockfish in Alaska. Many rockfish species are slow to reproduce. When they do, they produce low numbers of offspring, making rockfish vulnerable to quick depletion. Traditionally, rockfish play an important role in the diet of Native Alaskans, who mostly harvested the fish during the winter months when fresh fish was hard to come by.

Different species look similar, yet some are protected by specific laws. Others are good eating, while others are less palatable. Long story short, if you’re not familiar with rockfish, you’re probably better off leaving this fish for others to catch and consume.

Dolly Varden

Scientific Name: Salvelinus malma
Freshwater or Saltwater? Both; most are anadromous
Size: Over 30 inches
Characteristics: White, flaky flesh, best prepared fresh.

You’ll find two different varieties of Dolly Varden in Alaska, one northern and one southern form. Dolly Varden are often mistaken for Arctic char, although they’re different species. While Dolly Varden often transition between saltwater and freshwater environments, arctic char may live their entire lives in lakes. Some anglers catch and release Dolly Varden. However, they’re tasty when cooked fresh. You don’t want to freeze them, though, because they can get mushy.

Cutthroat Trout

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus clarkii
Freshwater or Saltwater? Can be anadromous, though some may stay in freshwater environments
Size: Up to 27 inches
Characteristics: Firm, flaky flesh

If you like rainbow trout, you’ll enjoy eating cutthroat trout. These fish get their name from their distinctive marking—a slash of red along their jawline—and you’ll find them all over Alaska. Some see cutthroat trout as a strictly catch-and-release kind of fish, while trout fans love cooking this fish whole and enjoying its distinctive taste.

Enjoying All that Alaska Has to Offer

Whether you’re fishing in Alaska or just eating, you’ll find plenty of fish to keep you busy. And, given the variety of species in the state’s waters, you’re sure to find something to suit your interests, angling skills—or your taste.

Considering a move to Alaska? We’ve helped individuals and families move just about everywhere in the state so they can enjoy all that Alaska has to offer. Reach out to our team to get started with a free quote.

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