Two unusual Washington state sportfish records fell on the weekend of September 23 and 24, 2017 according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The first was the state record for largest opah. Mike Benoit, a resident of Gig Harbor, caught the opah that measured 32.5”and weighed in at 37.98 pounds. Benoit made the catch while live-bait fishing out of Westport. The new record surpasses the previous record-large opah catch, caught by Jim Watson 45 miles off the coast of Washington, by more than 2 pounds.
The prized sportfish is native to tropical waters and rarely found in Washington. On average, one is caught every five years in the area. Even in areas where they are native, such as Hawaii, opah are still a highly prized catch. They are rare enough in the North Pacific Ocean, but in November 2017 one was caught off the coast of Maryland by angler Austin Ensor in a truly one-in-a-million catch. Reportedly, the anglers who caught it weren’t even sure what they had at first.
Warm water fish found in cooler waters have become increasingly common, and studies, such as one published in 2015 by UW oceanographer Curtis Deutsch, speculate the cause could be a mixture of rising ocean temperature and decreased oxygen availability. As average water temperature increases, more fish will look for cooler, oxygen-rich water, which could mean that these one-in-a-million catches will become increasingly likely.
The day after Benoit’s opah catch, Erik Holcomb of Lynden caught a record setting blue shark. This blue shark measured 71” and weighed in at 49.50 pounds. Holcomb fished with using anchovies for live bait. This new record surpasses the previous record by 22 pounds (although the previous blue shark was the first ever submitted for a state record).
Zachary Jackson of Arizona caught the previous record holder 57 miles off the coast of Washington. The International Game Fish Association’s world record for blue sharks is 528 pounds, so there is plenty of room for new state records. However, shark sport fishing for species uncommon in the region is not generally considered sustainable or wise practice. Perhaps our relatively wimpy Pacific Northwest record is one to be proud of after all.