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Huge Rockfish Not 200 Years Old, but Still Ugly. And Dead.

[node:summary]Aged rockfish was anything but: otolith exam shows it was 64, not 200, about the same age as Henry Liebman, who caught it off Alaska.

The rockfish caught by a Seattle insurance adjuster to great fanfare last month was not a record-breaking 200-year-old as some first thought, but a middle-aged guy in the prime of his life.

Examination of the otoliths, which are the fish’s equivalent of ear bones, revealed the fish’s age as 64 years, the charter-fishing company Angling Unlimited said in a statement. In fact Henry Liebman, the guy who hauled it to the surface, may well be in the same age range. (Related: Fisherman Catches Record-breaking, Amazingly Old Rockfish; Kills It)

Otoliths form rings that can be counted under a microscope. Initially the fish caused an uproar because its size led many to believe it had to be close to 200 years old. 

“It’s impossible to age a rockfish once it has matured just by looking at it,” Kristen Green, groundfish project leader for the Southeast Region of Alaska, to Angling Unlimited, the fishing-charter company that Washington State resident Henry Liebman was using. “The otoliths are the only way to accurately determine its age.”

The oldest rockfish ever caught was a 205-year-old rougheye that was 32 inches long, Angling Unlimited said. Since Liebman’s fish measured 41 inches and weighed 39.08 pounds—outweighing the previous record of 38.68 pounds set in 2001—many assumed it had to be pretty old. Green had held back from that estimate, putting out instead a ballpark of 50 to 175 years old.

Liebman caught the fish on June 21 in 850 feet of water. He and Angling Unlimited have applied for world-record status for the rockfish. 

“I never anticipated holding a record,” Liebman said in Angling Unlimited’s statement. “It’s been a fun experience and I hope they can manage the resource because it’s worth protecting.”