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Atlantic Halibut

Hippoglossus hippoglossus

Illustration of Atlantic Halibut.

Also Known As

  • Atlantic halibut
  • Halibut

Although populations are well below target levels, U.S. wild-caught Atlantic halibut is still a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under a rebuilding plan that allows limited harvest by U.S. fishermen.

Population

Significantly below target population levels.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Trawl gear used to harvest Atlantic halibut have minimal or temporary effects on habitat. Area closures and gear restrictions protect sensitive habitats from bottom trawl gear. Hook and line gear has little or no impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    Wild-caught from Maine to Connecticut.

  • Taste

    Halibut has a very mild, sweet taste.

  • Texture

    A lean fish with fine-grained, dense meat. When cooked, the meat is firm yet flaky and tender.

  • Color

    Uncooked, white and almost translucent. It should not look dull, yellowish or dried out. When cooked, the meat is white.

  • Health Benefits

    Halibut is low in saturated fat and sodium, and is a very good source of protein, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage Atlantic halibut.
  • Atlantic halibut, along with other groundfish in New England waters, are managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which includes:
    • Permitting requirements for commercial vessels.
    • Separate management measures for recreational vessels.
    • Year-round and seasonal area closures to protect spawning fish and habitat.
    • Minimum fish sizes to prevent harvest of juvenile fish.
    • Annual catch limits, based on best available science.
    • An optional sector (catch share) program can be used for cod and other groundfish species. The sector program allows fishermen to form harvesting cooperatives and work together to decide when, where, and how they harvest fish.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2017, commercial landings of Atlantic halibut totaled 242,105 pounds and were valued at more than $1.4 million.
    • Regulations include a minimum fish size and a limit of one fish per vessel per trip in federal waters.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Halibut are commonly harvested using trawl nets, bottom longlines, and rod and reel.
    • Trawl gear used to harvest halibut can impact habitat, depending on where they are used. Trawl gear can incidentally catch other fish and marine mammals.
    • Longlines, and rod and reel used to harvest halibut have little to no impact on habitat.
    • Regulations close key areas to fishing year-round or seasonally to protect habitat and spawning aggregations.
    • Restrictions on the size of gear that makes contact with the bottom in certain areas also help reduce habitat impacts.
    • Fishermen follow a number of strict regulations and use modified fishing gear to reduce bycatch of other species.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Halibut are sometimes targeted by recreational anglers, but are most often encountered when targeting other groundfish species like cod and haddock.
    • Regulations include a minimum fish size and a limit of one fish per vessel per trip in federal waters.

The Science

Population Status

  • The Atlantic halibut stock is at a very low level. Fishing is still allowed, but at reduced levels.
  • According to the 2012 stock assessment, the Atlantic halibut stock is overfished, but is not subject to overfishing. The estimated biomass is only 3 percent of its target level. It will remain in a rebuilding plan for the foreseeable future.

Location

  • Atlantic halibut are found from Labrador and Greenland to Iceland, and from the Barents Sea south to the Bay of Biscay and Virginia.
  • In U.S. waters, halibut is most common in the Gulf of Maine.

Habitat

  • Atlantic halibut are found in the temperate and arctic waters of the northern Atlantic.
  • They live in coastal to upper slope areas.
  • Atlantic halibut are demersal fish that live on or near sand, gravel or clay bottoms at depths of between 160 and 6,560 feet.

Physical Description

  • Atlantic halibut can be distinguished from other right-eyed flounders by their large size, concave caudal fin, large, gaping mouth, and arched lateral line.
  • One of the largest fish found in the Gulf of Maine.

Biology

  • Atlantic halibut is the largest species of flatfish in the world.
  • Atlantic halibut can reach up to 15 feet in length
  • The largest Atlantic halibut recorded was taken off Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and weighed 615 pounds (eviscerated with the head still attached). It likely weighed 700 pounds when it was alive.
  • It is a long-lived, late-maturing species that can live up to 50 years.
  • Average age at maturity is about 10 years.
  • Full grown females average 100 to 150 pounds, while males tend to be smaller.
  • Females are batch spawners, producing several batches of eggs each year.
  • In Canadian waters, Atlantic halibut spawn from late winter to early spring, while spawning can last through September for fish from Georges Bank to the Grand Banks.
  • Halibut food preferences vary by fish size: smaller fish (up to 12 inches in length) feed almost exclusively on invertebrates. The proportion of fish in the diet increases as the fish grow in size until they feed almost exclusively on fishes when they reach approximately 31 inches.

Research

  • Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct research bottom trawl surveys throughout the Northeast continental shelf every year during the fall and spring. These surveys collect data on the environment as well as biological samples from fish caught during research trawling. The data from these and other sources are used by scientists in stock assessments to estimate population size and fishing pressure.

Last updated: 03/07/2019