Fisherman lands Obama fish lookalike

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A yellowfin bass caught by Todd Goodell at Hydrographer Canyon. The fish was originally thought to be an Obama fish—a Hawaiian reef fish named after the forty-fourth President. — Wes Brighton

Todd Goodell didn’t know what he’d hauled up. Offshore at Hydrographer Canyon aboard the Kingfisher, he opted for some deep drop fishing before pressing his hunt for tuna again. With a dual-hook sea bass rig weighted with sash weights and baited with squid, he’d pulled up familiar fish: cod, pollock, tilefish, redfish, and conger eels from 700 feet down.

But the hot yellow, orange, and pink coloration of a foot-long fish that eventually came aboard wasn’t something the veteran commercial fisherman had seen before in New England. It looked tropical, he said, and he treated it with caution, alert for hidden, potentially venomous spines.

Over the course of the trip, he pulled up another two of the mysterious and vividly scaled fish. After Mr. Goodell brought the Kingfisher back to port in Menemsha and folks on the wharf got a look at the bright fish, nobody knew what to make of it. Later an identification was put forth: tosanoides obama, a.k.a. the Obama fish, a type of Hawaiian reef fish named after former President Barack Obama.

That’s what Fisherman’s Preservation Trust executive director Shelley Edmundson initially suspected after consulting with a University of New Hampshire professor. But after she showed a photograph to Woods Hole Oceanographic scientist Dave Bailey, the Obama fish theory fell through. The WHOI expert told her that the fish is an anthias nicholsi, a yellowfin sea bass.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the organization known for red-listing certain threatened fish species, lists the yellowfin bass as a “least concern” species in terms of endangerment. Its website states that the fish isn’t a fisheries target, but is occasionally taken for aquariums. The IUCN also states that yellowfin sea bass are a deepwater, bottom-dwelling fish found in the Atlantic from Brazil to Nova Scotia.