Big Old Alaskan Fish Turns Out To Be Just Big, Not Old

A nearly 40-pound rockfish caught off the southwest coast of Alaska was thought to be nearly 200 years old. The answer lay in the watery beast's ear bones, which were examined in a lab in Juneau, Alaska. Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish have more.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And now a big fish story. Last month a fisherman off the coast of Sitka, Alaska, brought in a record-breaking shortraker rock-fish. At nearly 40 pounds and three and a half feet long, the bug-eyed, bright orange beast is the biggest fish of its kind ever caught by a recreational fisherman.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

But even more exciting was its potential age. Based on its size, state wildlife specialists estimated that the rock-fish could be about 200 years old, old enough to have hatched back when Alaska belonged to Russia, when James Madison was president.

CORNISH: So they decided to find out. And how does one determine the age of a giant rock-fish? They turned to a lab in Juneau, where scientists examined its ear bones.

TROY TYDINGCO: They count the rings. It's very similar to what you'd have on a tree. They have annual growth rings.

SIEGEL: Troy Tydingco manages sport fishing in Sitka for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He says this rock-fish was far from a contemporary of Kierkegaard, Dr. Livingston or Stephen Douglas.

TYDINGCO: Yesterday morning we finally did get the age back, and this fish was actually only 64 years old.

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CORNISH: Barely old enough for Social Security, a contemporary of George Foreman and Wolfgang Puck. Is that still pretty old for a fish?

TYDINGCO: For a rock-fish, especially a shortraker, that's more run of the mill.

SIEGEL: So this heavyweight rock-fish was just big enough to fool them.

TYDINGCO: Well, it was a good grower.

SIEGEL: But not quick enough to be the one that got away.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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