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Midnight snapper caught near Broome takes title of ‘oldest tropical fish in world’

An 81-year-old midnight snapper caught off WA’s north coast has taken the title of the oldest tropical reef fish in the world.

The snapper, alive during World War II, was found 300km west of Broome at the Rowley Shoals.

The discovery was part of a study on the longevity of tropical fish.

The fish was collected and euthanised in 2016 so scientists could accurately determine its age by studying its ear bones or ‘otoliths’.

Fish otoliths contain annual growth bands that can be counted in much the same way as tree rings.

The research also identified a 79-year-old red bass and 11 other fish over the age of 60.

Australian Institute of Marine Science fish biologist Brett Taylor said the study would help researchers understand how climate change affects the age of fish.

“We’ve identified two different species here that are becoming octogenarians and probably older,” Dr Taylor said.

“It’s just incredible for a fish to live on a coral reef for 80 years.”

Dr Taylor said that observing fish at varying water temperatures would help to understand how they might react when temperatures warmed.

He said the oldest red bass was born during World War I.

“It survived the Great Depression and World War II,” he said.

“It saw the Beatles take over the world, and it was collected in a fisheries survey after Nirvana came and went. It’s just incredible for a fish to live on a coral reef for 80 years.”

Co-author Stephen Newman, from the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, said long-lived fish were generally considered more vulnerable to fishing pressure.

“Snappers make up a large component of commercial fisheries in tropical Australia and they’re also a key target for recreational fishers,” he said.

“So, it’s important that we manage them well, and WA’s fisheries are among the best managed fisheries in the world.”

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