When Henry Liebman caught a giant rockfish in Sitka, Alaska, its record-setting size hinted the fish might have been 200 years old.
Was this fish around before the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867?
- The previous record-holding fish weighed 38.69 pounds and was 175 years old, according to Troy Tydingco of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Since Liebman’s catch is even bigger, Tydingco believes it’s older, too.
“That fish was 32-and-a-half inches long, where Henry’s was almost 41 inches, so his could be substantially older,” Tydingo told the Sentinel.
Liebman’s rockfish turns out be 64 years old. To find out the age of a fish, the Department of Fish and Game in Juneau looks at ear bones called otoliths. Like tree rings, the annuli found in otoliths indicate the age of the fish. Lab supervisor Kara Hilwig said that although Liebman’s catch was not as old, it had grown really fast compared to other rockfish. And the same week, the lab had determined a rockfish caught near Ketchikan was 120 years old.
A rougheye rockfish set a record at 205 years old and measured 32 inches.
Who knew rockfish lived that long?! Animal longevity remains a puzzle to biologists. We still have a lot to learn about life on Earth and it’s sad that that animals have to die before we can learn basic information. In that spirit, my first impression was that Henry Liebman was entirely too pleased with his catch. Sure, done correctly, fishing and hunting are a much better way to get protein than, say, factory-farming. But shouldn’t the death of a record-setting animal be … not quite so joyful?
What about catch and release?
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game rockfish guidelines state:
- Rockfish caught in deep water often sustain injuries — referred to as barotrauma — caused by rapid decompression and expansion of gases in the swim bladder. Fish that are released with inflated swim bladders cannot resubmerge and will die. Because of high release mortality, intentional catch-and-release fishing is greatly discouraged, particularly in depths of 60 feet or greater.
Liebman caught his in 850-feet deep waters so releasing was not an option.
But researchers are testing deep-water release techniques and survival rates. There are home-made and commercial devices aiding successful deep-water release of fish as well as a conservation video made by the Alaska Fish and Game Department.
There are new regulations as well:
- Beginning in 2013 all charter vessels operating in Southeast Alaska must have a release device on board and all non-pelagic rockfish released by guided anglers must be released at depth. There must be something to this –how often do anglers ask for additional regulations upon themselves?
Let’s hope that although regulations can be cumbersome, they will help keep both fishermen and rockfish happy in the years to come.