California Halibut

The Science

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Taxonomic description

  • Belongs to the family Paralichthyidae with other flounders & sanddabs [2,3]
  • Small head with large mouth full of teeth 
  • Both eyes are on one side of the body so that the fish can lay flat on the seafloor with eyes facing up. 
  • Eyed side of the body is usually grayish or greenish-brown, and mottled with lighter and darker spots to camouflage with the cobbles, sand or mud of the substrate. The blind, “underside” side is white to cream [3,4]
  • Can reach lengths of 150 cm (60 “) [2]

Distribution

  • From Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico to Washington state, with a separate population in the upper Gulf of California [3]
  • Most occur south of San Francisco [4]

Life history

  • Major spawning areas are unknown [4].
  • Spawning season extends from February to July with most spawning in May [4].
  • Adults come up from relatively deep offshore water to spawn inshore at depths of 5-18 m (16-60 feet) [4]
  • Eggs are deposited on the substrate surface and fertilization is external [4]
  • Larvae and post-larvae are pelagic for serveral months before the post-larvae settle on the bottom, likely in bays and estuaries [4].
  • Juvenile halibut emigrate to deeper water after 1 year and/or at 20 cm in length [1,4] .
  • Maturity is reached after 2- 3 years for males and 3 - 5 years for females; both may live 30 years [3,4]

Habitat

  • Both adults and juveniles are demersal (live on the sea floor), mostly on sandy sediments.
  • Uses bays and estuaries as nurseries, possibly to decrease the risk of mortality of newly hatched fish. [2,4]
  • The larvae and juveniles are planktivorous, and adults are piscivorous [4]
  • Lives from the surf zone to 100 m (330 ft) but most abundant around 30 m (100 ft)  [1,4]
  • Lies flat and very still, buried or partially buried in sediment on the sea floor where it ambushes its prey, free swimming fish (e.g.,  Pacific sardine and northern anchovy) [2]

The Fishery

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Seasonal availability

  • Open year-round except trawl fishery, which is open June 16-March 14 [7]

Managing authority

  • California Department of Fish and Game oversees commercial permits & determines/enforces regulations [7]

Gear type

  • 50% of landings from bottom trawl, 25% hook-and-line, & 25% set gillnet [6]

Status of the fishery

  • When caught with hook-and-line or bottom trawl, rated as “Good Alternative” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program [8]
  • Stock assessments indicate a trend in depletion from 1971-2011, however further data are required [9].

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Degradation of estuaries & bays that halibut depend on for nursery grounds paired with their limited range make them vulnerable to overfishing [8]
  • One quarter of the total catch is caught with gillnets, which can entangle marine mammals & seabirds, so restrictions have been placed on where gillnets can be set [7]
  • Hook-and-line fishing is considered sustainable since gear is rarely in contact with the seafloor 
  • Stocks are maintained through a minimum size requirement of 55 cm (22”) length, which allows a chance for the fish to spawn before being eligible for take [7]

The Seafood

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Edible portions

  • Usually available as fillets

Culinary uses

  • Good advice: cook this fish while fresh!
  • Because of the leanness of the fish, freezing can cause the loss of moisture, and it is easy to overcook & dry out. Cook to an internal temperature of 52-54°C (125–130°F) to ensure the fish stays moist and tender [14].
  • Common preparations include baked, broiled, batter-fried, grilled, pouched, sautéed, steamed, sushi 
  • Takes on the flavor of any seasoning or sauces you cook it in, making it a great fish to sauté rather than grill
  • Cooking tip: Once sautéed and before it fully cooks, place the pan in the oven to allow the fish to capture the richness of all the flavors [15] 

Nutritional information  

  • Cooked, dry heat (5.6 oz) [11]

Description of meat

  • Lean fish with a mild, sweet flavor 
  • Meat includes large, white flakes with a firm and tender texture because of its rich oil content

Toxicity report

  • Potentially elevated levels of mercury; safe consumption recommendations are 3 servings per month for adults, 2 for kids 6-12 yrs, & 1 for kids 0-5 yrs old [12,13]

Seasonal availability

  • Available fresh year-round

References

1. Seafood Watch. 2013. California Halibut. Monterey Bay Aquarium, www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch

2. Tanaka, T. 2011. California Halibut, Paralichthys californicus. 2011 Status of the Fisheries. California Dept. Fish & Wildlife. www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/status/

3. Miller, D.L., R.N. Lea. 1972. Guide to the coastal marine fishes of California. Calif. Dept. Fish & Game, Fish Bull. 157. 299p

4. Kucas, S., T. Hassler. 1986. Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates (Pacific Southwest)-- California halibut. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Report 82 (11.44). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TR EL-82-4. 8pp. www.nwrc.usgs.gov/wdb/pub/species_profiles/82_11-044.pdf

5. Monterey Bayy Aquarium. 2013. On exhibit. www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/

6. Ish, T., F. Stroman. 2011. Sustainable Fishery Advocates Seafood Report: California Halibut. Rep. Monterey Bay Aquarium. www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/content/media/MBA_Seafood...

7. Fish and Game Commission. California Dept of Fish & Game. 2012. California Commercial Fishing Digest 2012-2013. nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=47779. 

8.  "California Halibut." Seafood Watch. Monterey Bay Aquarium. www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/ 

9. United States. Natural Resource Management. Department of Fish and Game. Southern California Halibut Stock Assessment. California Department of Fish and Game, 2011. 

10. Local Catch Monterey Bay. 2013. California Halibut.  www.localcatchmontereybay.com/?page_id=903

11. SELF Nutrition Data. 2013. "Fish, halibut, Atlantic and Pacific, cooked, dry heat." USDA SR-21, n.d. Web. 10 Aug 2013. <http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4063/2>.

12. Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector. 2013. “Halbiut” http://seafood.edf.org/halibut.

13. Seafood Watch. 2013. California Halibut. Monterey Bay Aquarium.

14. Buchanan, D. 2010. Halibut Culinary Information." Chef's Resources: Culinary Knowledge for Professional Chefs, Foodies, and Culinarians. www.chefs-resources.com/Halibut.

15. Cooking Channel, Inc.,10 Aug 2013. California Halibut www.cookingchanneltv.com/videos/california-halibut.html.

16. Shaw, H. 2013. Cooking with halibut, the king of flatfish. About.com. http://fishcooking.about.com/od/meetyourfish/p/halibut_profile.htm