Alaska Halibut Fishing Information

Pacific halibut is the largest flatfish in the ocean. The name of the fish is derived from Middle English’s “haly butte,” meaning, literally, “flatfish to be eaten on holy days.” Halibut can grow to weights over 800 pounds and lengths over 8 feet. Somewhat more elongated than other fish, a halibut’s height is typically one third of its length. The top of a halibut is darker than the rest of its body. When seen from above, a halibut blends in with the dark sea or creek water. The bottom is lighter so that predators viewing a halibut from below will mistake it for sky. A halibut’s diet consists of many different fish and invertebrates, including cod, herring and pollock. Halibut meat is nutritious, filled with many vitamins and minerals. Preparing halibut is easy and it is ideal for many methods of preparation, including frying, baking, broiling, deep-frying, and even barbecuing. Typically, one halibut can feed everyone. 

A halibut’s life cycle is extremely complex. Halibut spawn during the winter months, peaking from December through February, in water 200-300 fathoms deep. Generally, male halibut mate at the age of seven or eight while females usually mate between the ages 8-12. A female halibut can lay up to three million eggs! Many eggs, caught in north Pacific currents, end up hundreds of miles from where they were laid. The eggs typically start to hatch after 15 days. Young halibut regularly migrate in a clockwise direction throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Older halibut do not migrate as much. Generally, female halibut live longer than males. The oldest recorded female halibut was 42 years old while the oldest recorded male was only 27. 

Commercial fishing for halibut is an industry over one hundred years old. Company owned steamers carried with them several dories (a dorie is a small row boat), from which the fishermen would fish for the halibut. Later, small schooners were introduced, which complemented crews of up to eight people. The vessels used today are similar, but are capable of harvesting crab and other fish, particularly salmon. The halibut industry has seen some incredible changes in the ensuing decades. During the 1970’s, halibut fishing was limited to a period of just five months, and then changed in the 80’s to a “derby” style approach of allowing fisherman twenty-four and forty eight hour operation periods. While the derby style produced large landings of halibut, the overall quality of the fish was lower. The method of halibut fishing was changed again in 1995, with individual vessels working on a quota system. Fishermen now work an eight month long cycle, which has produced greater availability of fresh catches, and higher quality fish.