Rockfish, 200 years old, finally gets caught

A 200-year-old rockfish caught off the coast of Alaska by Henry Liebman was born about the same time that James Madison occupied the White House.

A sample from the long-lived fish has been sent to a laboratory in Juneau, where the exact age will be measured. This will be done by examining the otolith, an ear bone which exhibits growth rings like those in trees.

The age of fish can be estimated from their length, which is what gave wildlife officials their first idea of the great age of Liebman's catch. The oldest known shortraker rockfish was 175 years old.

"That fish was 32-and-a half inches long, where Henry's was almost 41 inches, so this could be substantially older," Troy Tidingco, Sitka area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said.

This two-century-old fish may be not just the oldest member of its species ever caught, but also the largest.

"I knew it was abnormally big, [but I] didn't know it was a record until on the way back - we looked in the Alaska guidebook that was on the boat," Liebman, an insurance adjuster, said.

The fish caught by Liebman off the coast of Sitka, Alaska, has stirred up a degree of controversy. Some people on Twitter lashed out against Liebman, saying he should have returned such a large, old fish to the water.

The fish was caught from a depth of 900 feet, however, presenting a problem with that idea. At those depths, fish can suffer from debilitating effects just from the change in pressure between the sea bottom and surface. This means that had Liebman released the animal, it might have quickly died, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The oldest animal ever measured was a 400-year-old quahog clam found in Iceland. The largest fish ever caught was a 1,496-pound bluefish tuna landed by Ken Fraser in 1979.

In 1813, Napoleon was suffering a string of defeats on land and sea, the British took over Fort Niagara in New York and Stephen Douglas, who would become famous for his debates with Abraham Lincoln, was born.

The Seattle resident who caught the 41-inch fish rockfish says he intends to have the remains mounted, so he can use it as a conversation piece.

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