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The Mighty Halibut

June 26, 2018

Ken Hendricks

While not necessarily an aesthetically-pleasing looking fish in its natural state, the halibut is one of the tastiest, most popular fish in America. Its white meat is firm, yet very mild. There are many different methods to cook halibut and numerous recipes. 

Halibut reside in both Pacific and Atlantic waters. They are also known to reside in waters off Japan and Russia. Pacific halibut can stretch as far south as California but predominantly reign in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. 

Spawning occurs during the winter months, usually from November through February. Halibut spawn in deep waters, between 600 to 1500 feet. They reach sexual maturity between 7 to 8 years for males and 8 to 12 years for females. Females lay between .5 to 4 million eggs annually, depending on conditions and the size of the fish. 

Halibut fry has the appearance of a conventional fish, and as they mature go through a transformation, positioning both eyes on one side of their head, and jaw action becomes horizontal instead of vertical. 

A large fish, halibut can reach a weight of up to 500 pounds and lengths of up to eight feet. They have a long life. The oldest recorded female was 42 years old and the male was 27 years. 

Halibut are predominantly bottom dwellers, but are also known to be quite migratory and can cover large distances. Their primary diet consists of medium size fish of various species but is also known to feed on invertebrates such as octopus, crab, and shrimp. 

While Atlantic halibut are on the “avoid” list because of over fishing and a depleted population, Pacific halibut are sustainably managed and healthy, thriving in large numbers. 

Sports fishing for halibut is becoming increasingly popular, as the fish puts up a strong fight. 

Commercial halibut fishing can be tracked back to around 1888, originating in Washington. Most halibut boats are versatile and can also be used to fish salmon and crab. 

Halibut are caught using the “long line” method. 600-ft leaded lines, known as “skates”, lie on the bottom with anchors at each end. Each skate has up to 100 baited hooks, and the anchored ends are marked by buoys. 

These are then fished for between 2 to 20 hours and then pulled up by a hydraulic puller. The fish are taken off the hooks one by one and then packed in ice to stay fresh. 

Halibut pricing varies according to availability, and at times can be higher than premium cuts of meat. It is a highly sought-after, delicious and healthy fish regardless of price, and a real treat!

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