Angler’s record catch could be two centuries old

A shortraker rockfish residing in the chilly depths off Sitka, Alaska, appears to have been doing all the right things—until it decided to bite a baited hook.

The pinkish-orange rockfish, caught recently by Seattle angler Henry Liebman, weighed 39.08 pounds, which is nearly four pounds heavier than the current world record (35 pounds, 13 ounces). If the catch is approved by the International Game Fish Association, the world record will belong to Liebman.

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Henry Liebman (right) poses with a 39-pound shortraker rockfish, caught off Sitka, Alaska, that is believed to be two centuries old. Photo courtesy of Anglers Unlimited

But perhaps more impressive is that the shortraker is believed to have been at least 200 years old when it was caught, and could possibly set an age record.

The Sitka Sentinel reports that the rockfish probably was feeding off the coast at the time of Alexander Baranov, a famous Russian trader who helped colonize parts of Alaska. Baranov died in 1819.

Troy Tidingco, Sitka manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, certified Liebman’s catch as a state record and estimated the fish to be about 200 years old, possibly several years older. (It’s hoped that an actual age will be determined, based on sample studies, by biologists in Juneau.)

Tidingco said that a 205-year-old rougheye rockfish is “the oldest-aged fish” to have been documented in Alaska.

Shortrakers typically live to about 175 years, but the fish caught by Liebman was abnormally large, and probably abnormally old.

The 205-year-old rougheye, Tidingco said, “was quite a bit smaller than the one Henry caught. That fish was 32-and-a-half inches long, where Henry's was almost 41 inches, so his could be substantially older.”

Liebman hooked the rockfish at a depth of 900 feet. “I knew it was abnormally big, but didn't know it was a record until on the way back [when] we looked in the Alaska guide book that was on the boat,” he said.

The angler took the fish home and said he planned to have it mounted.

Presumably, he’ll list the weight and age on the plaque that accompanies the mount.