Our name might be Alaskan Salmon Company, but we’re lucky to have many types of sustainable seafood found in our beautiful waters. That’s why we’d like to answer this question: is halibut sustainable? This article will take a look at this type of flatfish and why it’s definitely considered sustainable seafood.
Introduction to Alaskan Halibut
Let’s talk about North Pacific Halibut, or Hippoglossus stenolepis. It’s the largest flatfish in Family Pleuronectidae, also known as a family of righteye flounders.
Halibut are referred to as a “flatfish” because the halibut seems to be on its side, with both eyes facing up. As they mature, their top side takes on a darker, mottled appearance in order to mimic the sea floor. Their bottom remains a light white color and their bodies eventually flatten into an oval shape.
Migration and Life Cycle of Alaskan Halibut
In addition to being referred to as a “flatfish” or “righteye flounder”, Pacific halibut can grow up to eight feet long and weigh as much as 500 pounds!
Let’s take a journey to discover how they get there.
From a depth of 600 to 1,500 feet, a female halibut will release her eggs—up to four million of them!—between the months of November and March. In just over two weeks (15 days), the hatching process begins! After that, the deep ocean currents will cause the halibut larvae to drift in a counter clockwise direction along the Gulf of Alaska’s coast.
They’re born with one eye on each side of their head, but at around five weeks old, one eye migrates over the top of the halibut’s head so that both eyes are on the same side—hence the classification as a righteye flounder!
While they’re born looking like Alaskan salmon, with an eye on each side and swimming ‘normally', by six months old, they begin to swim on their side with their eyes facing up. This isn’t the only interesting thing about the life cycle of an Alaskan halibut!
Eventually, halibut begin to mature, gradually moving higher and higher in the water column. After some time, they will emerge in the shallow, coastal waters. Here, they’re better nourished and well on their way to reaching sexual maturity—roughly by age eight for males and age 12 for females. Halibut live to be pretty old, around 25 years is normal, but the oldest halibut on record made it to 55!
What Do Alaskan Halibut Eat?
Just how can a single fish reach up to 500 pounds? Well, they start out on a diet of plankton, typically the only thing they consume during their first year of life. As they enter their next couple of years of life, they consume shrimp-like organisms, called euphausiids. Eventually, once they reach 3-4 years old, they begin eating fish like smaller halibut, clams, rockfish, cod, pollock, crabs, herring, and even octopus.
Season (When to Fish for Alaskan Halibut)
Generally speaking, the Alaskan halibut season is from around March 14 to November 15, but mid-May through mid-September is believed to be the best time for good catches, especially before, during, or after high slack tide.
Size & Age When Harvested
It’s the female halibut that are more likely to reach those larger and longer sizes. In fact, it’s uncommon for male halibut to reach a size of even three feet. Similarly, while they can reach up to 500 pounds, this is relatively rare. The largest Alaskan halibut was caught in 1996 and weighed 459 pounds. On average, harvested halibut tend to be around 20 pounds.
For sport fishing, most caught halibut are roughly 10-15 years old. In fisheries, the average age is roughly 10-13 years old. How do we even know the age of a halibut? Similar to the process one would use with a tree, the rings in the ear bone, or otolith, are counted.
Halibut is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains 100% of your daily recommended value of selenium, and also has a decent amount of niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. It’s also a great source of high-quality protein and one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. While it doesn’t beat Alaskan salmon, a single serving (5.6 oz) provides 740mg of the essential polyunsaturated fat.
Not only will your brain, heart, and digestion be supported by the nutrient-packed Alaskan halibut, but your taste buds will be happy, too! The firm fish has a mild flavor, making it an excellent choice for those of us who don’t necessarily love fish, but would like to enjoy it for its many health benefits. It’s got a delicate texture and can be steamed, baked, deep-fried, roasted, fried, pan-seared, and grilled. The cheeks are especially luxurious and delicious!
Alaskan Halibut Supply Chain
If you’re wondering why Alaskan halibut is so expensive, it’s important to consider Alaskan halibut’s supply chain.
90% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported, and this includes halibut! Often, this involves Russian fishing operations and processing in China—and neither country typically eats halibut. They’re able to sell the halibut for much cheaper, which disincentivizes Alaskan fishing, thus decreasing Alaskan supply and making it more expensive.
In 2020, the Pacific halibut fishery started out slower and was also stalled by the global Covid-19 pandemic, driving costs up even more.
Ultimately, because the Pacific, specifically Alaska, is known to have some of the healthiest fish stocks and best fishery management practices in the world, you get what you pay for. When it comes to halibut and sustainable seafood from this region, the slight increase of price means better fish, better taste, better ecosystems, and better supported fishing communities.
Is Alaskan Halibut Sustainable?
If you’re wondering if Alaskan halibut is sustainable, the answer is a resounding YES. So, what exactly makes halibut sustainable? Let’s start with the fact that USA Pacific halibut fisheries were some of the first to receive MSC certification. Oftentimes, halibut is caught using longlines, which means carefully placed hooks that can be brought into the boat one at a time, which helps to minimize overfishing and bycatch rates.
When it comes to halibut bycatch, Alaska has regulations mandating that if caught when fishing for Pacific cod, for instance, halibut has to be released back into the water. Fortunately, Alaskan halibut don’t have a swim bladder, meaning that they can tolerate changes in water pressure and, if treated with care, have a good chance of survival (>95%) after being released.
Final Thoughts on Alaskan Halibut
Alaskan halibut is tasty, nutritious, and sustainable. What more could you want?! We hope this article leaves you feeling excited about putting some of this flaky, white meat on your dinner plate!