On Friday, June 21, 2013, Henry Liebman of Washington caught a 39.08-pound shortraker rockfish while fishing in Sitka with fishing charter company Angling Unlimited – breaking the Alaska state record of 38.68 pounds. The previous Alaska rockfish record stood since 2001. Recent findings by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau have aged the fish at 64 years old.
After the explosion of interest that Liebman’s fish generated, an immediate analysis was performed to accurately identify the age of the fish. The otoliths, the fish’s equivalent of ear bones, were extracted by biologists in Sitka, then sent to Juneau to be aged. Otoliths form annual rings which can be counted under a microscope to determine a fish’s age.
“It’s impossible to age a rockfish once it has matured just by looking at it,” said Kristen Green, groundfish project leader for the Southeast Region of Alaska. “The otoliths are the only way to accurately determine its age.”
The oldest aged rockfish, a rougheye, was 205 years old and measured 32 inches. Liebman’s fish measured 41 inches, which encouraged unsubstantiated claims of a 200 year old fish. Green was hesitant to jump on the 200 year old bandwagon because of her knowledge of rockfish biology.
Shortrakers mature by age ten and reach their peak size shortly after. Based on average life expectancy for shortrakers, this leaves a large range for estimating age, which complicates identifying their age by sight. This growth curve is known as the Von Bertalanffy Curve.
Green predicted that Liebman’s fish could have been anywhere between 50 to 175 years old.
Liebman has been a customer of Angling Unlimited since 2009. During a previous trip, he caught a shortraker rockfish while halibut fishing off the coast of Kruzof Island. This year, he made it a priority to catch another. Captain David Gross took Liebman’s party to where he believed they could find the large rockfish – 850 feet of water.
It wasn’t long before the baits were getting attention from fish deep below. Liebman took his turn at a bite and reeled up the massive rockfish. Deckhand Gus Ohaus landed the large fish and Gross weighed it. The initial weight from the scale onboard was 45 pounds. Gross knew itrings could possibly be a record breaker.
Once the party returned to the dock, it was a race to get the fish to the ADFG for an official weigh-in before the fish lost any more weight. The fish officially weighed 39.08 pounds, which was enough to break the 12-year record.
“I never anticipated holding a record,” said Liebman. “It’s been a fun experience and I hope they can manage the resource because it’s worth protecting.”
The process to apply for world record status is currently underway. Angling Unlimited will announce when it has been recognized. For the official announcement, visit World Record Rockfish.