Pacific Halibut

Hippoglossus stenolepis

Magnus Kjaergaard/Wikipedia

The Science


One of the largest flatfish –this fish weighs up to 500 pounds and can grow to 8 feet in length. [1]

Pacific halibut on top of substrate amongst deep sea organisms and rocks
Pacific halibut on top of substrate amongst deep sea organisms and rocks. Jackson W.F. Chu/flickr

Taxonomic description

  • Has a flat, diamond shaped body, smooth scales, white underside, and blotchy brown or olive color upper side that allows it to camouflage against the sandy ocean floor. [1,3]
  • Both eyes are on the right side of the body, although 1 in every 20,000 Pacific halibuts has both eyes on the left side. [4]
  • Has a medium to large size mouth and crescent shape tail fin. [3, 4] 


  • Found on continental shelf of the northern Pacific, from Hokkaido, Japan to Baja California; most typically in the Gulf of Alaska. [1,4]

Life history

  • The oldest known individual was 55 years old but it rarely lives over 25 years; sexual maturity for males is ~ 8 years and females ~ 12 years old. [1,4]
  • Females spawn during the winter at depths of 300 - 1,500 ft, from the Bering Sea to British Colombia. [1]
  • At 2.5 cm (1 in) long, the left eye migrates to the right side; by 6 months, juveniles descend to the bottom and develop distinctive coloring. [4]
  • Larvae live close to the surface; juveniles leave the shallow nursery area as early as 2 years old; adults migrate around the Northern Pacific Ocean in a clockwise direction. [4,5]


  • Typically demersal (bottom-dwelling) in depths of 6–305m (20 – 1000 ft) but has been found at 1,097m (3,600 ft). [4]
  • Prefers water temperatures from 2.7–7.8⁰C (37– 46⁰F). [4]
  • Larvae feed on zooplankton; juveniles on small crustaceans, shrimp and fish; adults feed on other fish such as sand lances, herring, other groundfish, and occasionally other Pacific Halibut. [1,5]
  • Camouflage aids with both hunting and escaping predators; and as such is rarely predated, thought it is occasionally found in the stomachs of marine mammals and sharks. [5]
  • Fished for sustenance by Indigenous populations, especially Alaska Natives. Commercial fishing in California reached a peak in the 1950s and has declined ever since. Sport fishing has increased, and Pacific halibut is one of the most popular sport fisheries on the West Coast of North America. [2,4,6]   


The Fishery


The Pacific Halibut fishery is one of the most protected and monitored fisheries with its own watchdog organization, the International Pacific Halibut Commission. [2]

Big Pacific halibut held aloft by fisherman.
Big Pacific halibut held aloft by fisherman. Kristof Zyskowski/iNaturalist

Seasonal availability

  • Available year round in California unless quota is first met. The total allowable catch for California, Oregon, and Washington is set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and varies annually. [6]

Regulatory and managing authority

  • Internationally overseen by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). [1]
  • Managed federally by NOAA fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council in accordance with the IPHC. [1]
  • The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) manages this fishery in accordance with regulations by the IPHC. [2]

Gear type

  • Longline hook gear is the only allowed method of catch for commercial and recreational fisheries, although some bycatch from salmon troll and sablefish is allowed. [8,9]

Status of the fishery

  • Pacific halibut is not considered to be experiencing overfishing and is stably distributed. [10]
  • Total removals in 2017 were below the 100-year average and have been stable near 19,050 t (42,000,000 lbs). [10]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Long lines have relatively minimal habitat impacts as lines are set to a depth specifically for halibut and large hooks reduce smaller fish bycatch. Seabirds can be caught but avoidance devices have reduced seabird bycatch by 90%. [8]
  • Size limits and scientifically based, carefully managed quotas prevent young fish from being caught and ensure that current population levels are maintained. [9,10]


The Seafood


Raw halibut flesh is nearly translucent, but when cooked, it turns a bright white. [8, 11, 12, 13]


Pacific halibut filet with garnish, cooked vegetables, plated on a cream sauce base, and drizzle of purple-colored sauce of
Pacific halibut filet with garnish and cooked vegetables. Jimmy DeFlippo/flickr
Pacific halibut nutrition info

Edible portions

  • Most of the fish is edible, including the roe, liver, and cheeks. [14]
  • Halibut cheeks are considered to be a delicacy! [14]
  • The skin is tough, so it is removed either before or after cooking. [14]

Description of meat

  • Raw meat is nearly translucent, and cooked meat is very white. [8,11,12,13]
  • Its large, firm flakes have a mild and sweet flavor. [8,11,12,13]

Culinary uses

  • Available fresh in numerous forms: headless, fillets, dressed, loins, steaks, roasts and cheeks. [12,13]
  • Available frozen headless or dressed and can have skin on or skin off fillets. [13] 
  • A grilled halibut recipe is available at Stay at Home Chef. [16]
  • For a baked halibut recipe, visit The Cozy Apron. [17]
  • It is commonly baked, broiled, grilled, poached, sautéed, or steamed. [12]
  • The meat is thick and works well for kebabs. [12]

Nutritional information

  • Nutrition information given for one 100 gram serving of raw Pacific Halibut. [8]
  • Pacific Halibut has low levels of saturated fat and sodium. [8]
  • Is a good source of protein, niacin, selenium, and phosphorus. [8,15]
  • Is a good source of vitamins B12 and B6. [15] 

Toxicity report

  • Though Halibut may contain Mercury and/or Purines, it is still safe to consume in moderate amounts because levels of both are low to moderate. [15]

Seasonal availability

  • From mid-March to mid-November, available fresh. [8,13]
  • Available frozen year-round. [8]


[1] NOAA Fisheries. Pacific Halibut. Web. Accessed 29 January 2019.

[2] California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Conservation – Pacific Halibut. Web.…. Accessed 29 January 2019.

[3] Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. n.d. Pacific Halibut. Web.…. Accessed 4 September 2020. 

[4] Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Pacific Halibut: Species Profile. Web. Accessed 29 January 2019.

[5] International Pacific Halibut Commission. Pacific Halibut Stock Status and Biology. Web.…. Accessed 29 January 2019.

[6] Pacific Fishery Management Council. Background: Pacific Halibut. Web. Accessed 29 January 2019. 

[7] National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region. 2018 Commercial and Recreational Pacific Halibut Fisheries in Washington, Oregon, and California. Web.…. Accessed 26 February 2019.

[8] Fishwatch U.S. Seafood Facts. Pacific Halibut. Web.  Accessed 26 February 2019.

[9] International Pacific Halibut Commission. Pacific Halibut Fishery Regulations. Web. Accessed 26 February 2019.

[10] International Pacific Halibut Commission. Report of the 94thSession of the IPHC Annual Meeting. Web. Accessed 29 February 2019.

[11] ThisFish. Pacific Halibut. Web. Accessed 25 February 2019

[12] SeafoodSource. 2014. Halibut. Web. Accessed 25 February 2019

[13] Santa Monica Seafood. Pacific Halibut. Web. Accessed 25 February 2019

[14] BonAppetit. 2008. Halibut. Web.…. Accessed 25 February 2019

[15] Goodson, A. 2018. Halibut Fish: Nutrition, Benefits and Concerns. Web. Accessed 25 February 2019

[16] Farnsworth, R. TheStayAtHomeChef. 2013. Grilled Halibut. Web. Accessed 2 April 2019. 

[17] Beer, I. The Cozy Apron. 2019. Baked Halibut. Web. Accessed 19 January 2021.  

[18] Kjaergaard, M. Wikipedia. 2013. Digital image. Web.…. Accessed 22 February 2021. 

[19] Chu, J. flickr. 2008. Digital image. Web. Accessed 22 February 2021.  

[20] Zyskowski, K. iNaturalist. 2004. Digital image. Web. Accessed 22 February 2021. 

[21] DeFlippo, J. flickr. 2013. Digital image. Web. Accessed 22 February 2021.