The Pacific halibut is the largest flatfish in Pacific waters and one of the world’s largest bony fish. It is a member of the family Pleuronectidae, or right-eyed flounder. Since the 1980s, Pacific halibut populations have prospered, providing excellent fishing from Oregon to Alaska.
giant halibut, northern halibut, hali (Canada), barn door; Japanese: ohyô;
Portuguese: alabote do Pacifico; Spanish: fletán del Pacifico
Identification of Pacific Halibut
The halibut usually is dextral; that is, both eyes are on the right side of the head. Its coloration varies from olive to dark brown or black with lighter, irregular blotches. More elongate than other flatfish, the average width of the Pacific halibut’s body is about one-third its length. The mouth is large, extending to the lower eye. The small, smooth scales are well buried in the skin, and the lateral line has a pronounced arch above the pectoral fin. The tail is crescent-shaped, longer at the tips than in the middle, which distinguishes it from most other flatfish.
Size of Pacific Halibut
A typical sport-caught Pacific halibut is 28 to 50 inches long, weighing 10 to perhaps 60 pounds. Rod-andreel records include several halibut in excess of 400 pounds (the all-tackle record is 459 pounds), and 500-pounders have been caught commercially. The largest specimens are females, as males seldom top 90 pounds.
Spawning occurs in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea during the winter. The eggs and the larvae float freely in the ocean current for 6 months, settling to the bottom in shallow, inshore waters, and make a counterclockwise migration through the Pacific, reaching the place where they were spawned by adulthood.
Halibut lie on bottom waiting for tidal currents to wash food within striking range. However, they are strong swimmers and will leave the bottom to feed on pelagic fish, such as herring and sand lance. They will also inhabit virtually any place that has an abundance of crabs, squid, octopus, cod, pollack, sablefish, or other food.
Pacific halibut are found on the continental shelf of the North Pacific Ocean and have been recorded along the North American coast from central California to Nome, Alaska. They live on or near the bottom and have been taken as deep as 3,600 feet, although most are caught during the summer, when they are at depths of 75 to 750 feet. They generally move back into deeper water in the fall and the winter.
Preferring cool water (37° to 46°F), halibut are most commonly found where the bottom is composed of cobble, gravel, and sand, especially near the edges of underwater plateaus and breaklines.