Dr. Chris Wilson of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center
holds a 38-inch ruler up to a giant shortraker rockfish
caught in the Bering Sea near the Pribilof Islands.
Credit: Karna McKinney/NOAA Fisheries
An immense goggle-eyed rockfish — possibly born in the 19th century during the age of sail — was caught deep in the Bering Sea and donated to astonished federal biologists at NOAA Fisheries.
The huge female shortraker rockfish — Sebastes borealis — was accidently trapped in mid-March during a trawl targeting pollock some 2,100 feet down in the black depths of Pribilof Canyon south of St. Paul Island by the catcher-processor Kodiak Enterprise of Trident SeaFoods, according to a release from Sheela MacLean at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau.
The fish, one of 10 rockfish scooped that day in a 75-ton haul of pollock, stretched more than 44 inches and weighed 59.5 pounds — one of the largest shortraker rockfish ever recorded.
The book Fishes of Alaska cites a maximum known size for the species at about 47 inches, with a single 46-incher caught off eastern Kamchatka in the early 1990s, MacLean said.
Though catcher processors in that Bering Sea fishery can keep some shortraker and rougheye rockfish caught as bycatch with their pollock, this specimum seemed too amazing to end up on someone’s dinner plate.
When the crew alerted factory manager Michael Myers about the strange catch, he told them to freeze it whole, McLean reports. He later turned the entire carcass over the federal scientists to study.
“We’re grateful to Mike Myers and Trident Seafoods for giving this huge specimen for research,” said Alaska Fisheries Science Center Director Doug DeMaster. “We are gathering scientific information from her.”
Myers did show the fish to his sons’ classes at a grade school in Everett, Washington, where at least one kid took fright.
But the kids “didn’t go quite as crazy over it as the researchers,” Myers said.
Since taking possession of the old mother fish, biologists have measured, photographed, poked and probed. By removing the middle ear bone — called the otolith — the researchers were able to count the growth rings and estimate its age at between 90 and 115 years.
Next will be tissue samples and a look into its stomach.