Read about halibut, for the “hal-i-but”
By Rachel Berman
A fisherman poses with his prize catch.
All Pacific halibut undergo this change as they mature into adult flatfish. The top side of their bodies blend in with the bottom of the sea floor, making camouflage a useful tool for the bottom-dwelling fish while avoiding predators or stalking prey. Since they spend much of their time lying flat on the bottom on their left side, it’s useful to have both their eyes on the right (upper) side.
Now… imagine a bit further that you have grown into a mature halibut and that you’ve been caught by a fisherman planning to eat you for dinner. Pacific halibut have a large population within the Gulf of Alaska, as well as a large following of anglers. Homer, Alaska has been proclaimed the “Halibut Capitol of the World,” so there’s a good chance you (as a halibut) live somewhere around there. Halibut are also an important source for subsistence fishing by native Alaskan tribes.
After a battle between you and the fisherman, he or she reels you onto the boat and can finally rest. In well-deserved victory, the fisherman may plan to pair your tender white filets with the crisp notes of sauvignon blanc, or may use your resourceful body to bring back to their Native American tribe, depending on who has caught you.
Pacific halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis, populations range down the West Coast to Baja California, Mexico and all the way up north through the Bering Sea. In Greek, Hippoglossus stenolepis, translates to horse-tongue narrow-scale, a name suggestive of the halibut’s powerful vertebrate body covered in small scales. As for the common name, the Catholic population took to eating halibut on holy days, thus “halibut” came from “haly” for holy, and “butte,” meaning flat-fish. Halibut have been fished as far back as 1888, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission(IPHC) regulates its stocks closely. It’s no secret that the Pacific halibut is the largest species of flatfish from the Pleuronectidae family, growing larger than eight feet in length and reaching weights as great as five hundred pounds. Adult females in particular grow to such large sizes that they have few predators to fear, though orca whales, salmon sharks, and great white sharks will happily take a bite if they get the chance. Recently, a seventy-seven year old man caught one of the giant halibut, a catch he termed “the fish of a lifetime.” Hopefully he didn’t catch any of you halibut reading simply for the “hal-i-but.”
To read more about Pacific halibut follow these links:
- Pacific Halibut data on OceanAdapt in the Gulf of Alaska, Eastern Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, West coast (1977-2004), or West coast (2003-present)
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game
- North Pacific Fishery Management Council
- A Paper comparing the genetics of Pacific halibut to Atlantic halibut
- A paper on depth-behavior of Pacific halibut