On June 21 Angling Unlimited’s Captain David Gross’s customers finished off some excellent king salmon fishing and headed offshore. Included in the group was Henry Liebman. In an exploratory mode, they dropped the baits down in 850 feet of water. Below, an unsuspecting shortraker rockfish of roughly 40 pounds ate its last meal, came to the surface, and quickly went viral on the 24 hour news cycle, the blogosphere, Twitter, and heaven knows what else. The alleged advanced age of the record rockfish generated story leads with visions of James Madison living in the White House during the year it hatched.
The viral hubbub arose from the remote possibility, not probability, that the fish was 200 years old. In fact, the oldest aged shortraker rockfish was 175 years old. These fish tend to plateau in size at age 50 at which point biologists are aware that any linear connection between size and age is nearly non-existent. The media, failing woefully to wait for the facts, ran headlines of a 200 year fish and it all went viral. Comments on the stories railed about how awful it is to kill a fish that was swimming the North Pacific while Dolly Madison was hosting tea parties (the old fashioned kind) at the White House.
Thankfully and quite responsibly, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game ran a STAT analysis of the otoliths, the tiny ear bones that have growth rings used to determine age of a fish. Result: Our viral fish was a mere 64 – only three years older than I. So, flush the Dolly Madison tea party and fast forward to high balls with Harry Truman for your birthday image. And remember, what you see on the news these days, what you read online, what gets tweeted around the world can bear strong resemblance to what has been coming out the back end of a bull for a lot longer than 200 years.
We congratulate Henry on what is definitely an Alaska State record shortraker rockfish and, more than likely, an IGFA world record. We congratulate Captain David Gross for guiding Henry to the fish. We thank the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for their help in learning more about this fish in a very timely manner and for their rockfish expertise. We support the sustainable harvest of all fish species and know that a close look at the sport harvest of deepwater rockfish in Alaska shows the impact the fleet has on shortrakers is essentially zero.