Halibut

The fishery

Wild Pacific Halibut are one of BC’s most popular seafood species. As one of the largest flatfish in the world, Halibut have a sweet delicate flavour, firm texture, and tender large flake. This large fish can be deliciously prepared in a variety of ways.

The wild Pacific Halibut fishery is collaboratively managed by the Pacific Halibut Management Association of BC (PHMA) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The Pacific Halibut Management Association of BC (PHMA) represents the BC commercial Halibut harvesters and licence holders. The association strives to maintain a viable Halibut industry, a sustainable Halibut source, and secure food for Canadians as well as others in the world.  PHMA collaborates with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on the management of the Wild Pacific Halibut fishery.

About

Wild Pacific Halibut are a type of groundfish best known for their large size, camouflaged flat bodies, active nature, and bottom-dwelling habits. They are perhaps most distinguished by both eyes positioned on the dark, top side of their head. Wild Pacific Halibut are found along the continental shelf of the North Pacific Ocean. They usually live deep within the ocean, Halibut are commercially harvested between 250-1,500 feet below the surface. They can reach up to 500 pounds! Wild Pacific Halibut are a highly migratory fish. Depending on their size, female Halibut will lay between 500,000 to 4 million eggs. Female Halibut are typically 10 to 12 years old when they spawn, and males are usually about eight when they reach sexual maturity. The Halibut lifecycle occurs in a counter-clockwise migration. Starting from the bottom of the ocean, the fertilized Halibut egg floats through the water and hatches into larvae. The larvae drift up and become postlarva, which float in shallow water feeding on plankton. After six months, the young Halibut will settle at the bottom of the ocean and eventually develop into adult Halibut.

The harvest

Wild Pacific Halibut have been commercially harvested from Canada’s west coast since the late 1880s, the fishery has played a vital role in shaping BC’s culture, communities, and economy. Pacific Halibut are harvested using longline gear. Branch lines with hooks are attached to the longline and the crew will bait the hooks to attract the Halibut. The gear is set with an anchor, buoy, and flag and left to soak for about twelve hours.

The crew pulls the line on board carefully hauling the fish onboard one at a time. Every Halibut that is caught is recorded in the fishing logbook and by a video-based, government-approved electronic monitoring system that also tracks vessel location. The harvested fish are quickly stunned, bled, dressed (gills and viscera are removed) and then stored in the hold of the vessel where they are covered with ice. Wild Pacific Halibut must be larger than the regulated minimum size to be harvested (24 inches head-off or 32 inches head-on). As part of the Groundfish Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, there is a specific amount of bycatch quota included in the Halibut fishery. Therefore, Halibut harvesters are permitted to retain a specific quota of other species, such as Rockfish, each season on top of their Halibut catch.

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Sustainability

Wild Pacific halibut is considered one of the best-managed and monitored fisheries in the world. There are several measures in place to manage the Halibut fishery. Commercial harvesters work hard to continually develop these measures and ensure the sustainability of their fishery. The fishery is limited entry with a maximum number of vessel licenced to harvest Halibut. Each season the licence holders are allocated their share of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), which limits the number of Halibut they can harvest.

The vessel master is required to have a DFO approved logbook to document every fish caught, and all fishing details including the date, time, location, gear, bait used, and any lost or found fishing gear. The Wild Pacific Halibut fishery has 100% at-sea monitoring and dockside monitoring. All vessels are required to carry a government-designated observer or a video-based, electronic monitoring system from a government-approved service provider to record vessel location, fishing location and catch – both retained and released at sea. Vessels can only offload at approved landing ports and all landings are monitored by a government-designated dockside observer. The catch is weighed and validated to ensure that licence holders do not exceed their catch limits. During the dockside validation, a government-designated observer tags every single Wild Pacific Halibut with a unique serial number to help with enforcement and traceability.

The Halibut resource is managed under a treaty between Canada and the United States, which form the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). The IPHC conducts stock assessments and scientific research on Wild Pacific Halibut. As part of the IPHC process, representatives from both countries meet every January to receive the science advice and agree on annual catch limits and season dates.

When

The wild Pacific Halibut fishery is closed during the winter months when mature Halibut spawn. The fishery typically runs for nine months out of the year, starting in the spring around March and finishing at the end of the fall around December.

When

The wild Pacific Halibut fishery is closed during the winter months when mature Halibut spawn. The fishery typically runs for nine months out of the year, starting in the spring around March and finishing at the end of the fall around December.

Where

More than 90% of Canada’s commercial harvest of Wild Pacific Halibut is caught between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the Alaskan border. The Wild Pacific Halibut fishery takes place in less than 0.7% of Canada’s Pacific marine area. Continued access to this footprint is vital to ensuring the fishery can continue to meet sustainability objectives. Most of the wild Pacific Halibut is caught between ocean depths of 250 and 1,800 feet (75 to 550 metres).

The market

Wild Pacific Halibut are consumed worldwide, but these large fish are particularly popular in North America. Although Halibut can be sold fresh or frozen, the fresh market during the commercial season is the most common. Featured as a staple on menus across North America, Halibut is delicious no matter how it is prepared.

Halibut is available in a variety of product forms providing great versatility and endless opportunities in the kitchen. Halibut are available in fillets, steaks, cheeks, collars, and even trim! For more information on wild Pacific Halibut, head to: https://www.wildpacifichalibut.com