KODIAK, Alaska — In the ocean's depths, Andy Joca is on top of the world.
On Aug. 24, the Coast Guard officer hauled in a world record: a 13.2-pound starry flounder that is the largest ever taken with a spear gun. The record fish was certified by the International Underwater Spearfishing Association and so large that it even tops the rod and reel record.
Joca, who has been in Kodiak for just one month, downplays his accomplishment. "This is a function of just being lucky, being in the right place at the right time," he said. "I feel kind of funny getting a world record for a 13.2-pound fish when there's 200-pound halibut swimming around in the same water."
Starry flounder are a species of flatfish found from California to Korea, usually lingering on the seafloor. The largest on record with the International Game Fish Association (which tracks rod and reel records) is 10 pounds, 9 ounces, though animals up to 20 pounds have been found in commercial nets before.
In an account posted on the IUSA website, which certifies spearfishing records, Joca said he was diving in Monashka Bay on a clear day. Their plan was to work across the bay, looking for halibut or salmon, toward a reef where rockfish are known to linger.
While state regulations allow SCUBA divers to spearfish, Joca and his partner were freediving, with no oxygen tanks.
The pair saw flounder early on their dive, but they only took one. A sea lion shadowed them on their swim, and they took some rockfish and salmon as they progressed.
"Then, near the end of the day's diving, I saw the very large flounder on a dive in approximately 15 (feet) of water. I shot it and immediately knew it was unusually big," Joca wrote.
A portable scale in Joca's truck revealed its size, and the pair hurried to have the fish measured on a certified scale.
Any record listed by the IUSA first goes through a rigorous verification process, which Joca followed.
"It's the first record for spearfishing in Kodiak," said Sandy Pherson, co-owner of Scuba Do, Kodiak's dive shop.
Pherson estimates at least 20 people regularly spear fish in Kodiak, but none are listed on the IUSA website as record-holders. Dan Magone, the Dutch Harbor marine salvager, is listed as the record-holder for Pacific Cod.
Joca said he doesn't plan to broadcast his achievement, but he's keeping his eyes open for a big halibut. If one passes by while he's in the water, he'll have something to say. "When I get that world-record halibut, then I'll have some bragging rights," he said.
Information from: Kodiak (Alaska) Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com