Pacific halibut

Pacific halibut

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The Pacific halibut is found on the continental shelf of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering sea. They are demersal, living on or near the bottom. The halibut
Halibut
Halibut is a flatfish, genus Hippoglossus, from the family of the right-eye flounders . Other flatfish are also called halibut. The name is derived from haly and butt , for its popularity on Catholic holy days...

 is among the largest teleost
Teleostei
Teleostei is one of three infraclasses in class Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fishes. This diverse group, which arose in the Triassic period, includes 20,000 extant species in about 40 orders; most living fishes are members of this group...

 (bony) fish in the world. Halibut are strong swimmers and are able to migrate
Fish migration
Many types of fish migrate on a regular basis, on time scales ranging from daily to annually or longer, and over distances ranging from a few metres to thousands of kilometres...

 long distances. Halibut size is age and sex-specific, but also follows a cycle that has been related to halibut and other species abundance.

Pacific halibut have diamond-shaped bodies. Halibut have both eyes on their dark or upper side. The color adaption allows halibut to avoid detection from both prey and predator. Being strong swimmers, halibut are able to eat a large variety of fishes such as cod, turbot, pollock, and some invertebrates such as crab and shrimp. Most spawning takes place off the edge of the continental shelf in deep waters about 200 fathom (1,200 ft; 365.8 m). At six months of age, the young have their adult form and are about 1.4 inches (3.6 cm) long. Young halibut, up to 10 years of age, are highly migratory. Older, reproductively mature halibut move seasonally across areas and between shallower and deeper waters during and around the winter reproductive season. The oldest halibut on record (both males and females) are 55 years old based on otolith (ear bone) measurements.

There is a thriving commercial fishery for Pacific halibut, mainly in Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 but also along the western coast of North America south to Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

. Sport fishing for halibut in Alaska is a very popular activity; it is a strong fighter with an impressive yield and firm, white flesh. Over 65 percent of the effort and harvest occurs in Kachemak Bay
Kachemak Bay
Kachemak Bay is a 64-km-long arm of Cook Inlet in the U.S. state of Alaska, located on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula. The communities of Homer, Halibut Cove, Seldovia, Nanwalek, Port Graham, and Kachemak City are on the bay as well as three Old Believer settlements in the Fox River...

, Southeast Alaska, the Kodiak area, and near the mouth of Deep Creek in the Lower Cook Inlet
Cook Inlet
Cook Inlet stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage in south-central Alaska. Cook Inlet branches into the Knik Arm and Turnagain Arm at its northern end, almost surrounding Anchorage....

. Most halibut caught weigh 15–20 lb (6.8–9.1 kg), although individuals weighing more than 150 pounds (68 kg) are regularly caught. The International Pacific Halibut Commission
International Pacific Halibut Commission
The International Pacific Halibut Commission is an International Fisheries Organization, having Canada and the United States of America as its members, responsible for the management of stocks of Pacific halibut or Hippoglossus stenolepis within the Pacific waters of its member states...

 (IPHC) manages these fisheries based on large amounts of data taken annually.

Distribution


The Pacific halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis, is found on the continental shelf
Continental shelf
The continental shelf is the extended perimeter of each continent and associated coastal plain. Much of the shelf was exposed during glacial periods, but is now submerged under relatively shallow seas and gulfs, and was similarly submerged during other interglacial periods. The continental margin,...

 of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. Fishing for the Pacific halibut is mostly concentrated in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, off the West coast of Canada. Small halibut catches are reported in coastal Washington, Oregon, and California. Pacific halibut is broken up to ten regularity management areas.

Halibut are demersal, living on or near the bottom of the water and prefer water temperatures ranging from 3 to 8 °C (37.4 to 46.4 F). Pacific halibut belong to a family called Pleuronectidae. They are among the largest teleost fishes in the world. From November to March, mature halibut concentrate annually on spawning grounds along the edge of the continental shelf at depths from 183 to 457 m (600.4 to 1,499.3 ft).

Halibut are strong swimmers and are able to migrate long distances. Halibut of all ages and sizes are involved in a predominantly clockwise (Northwest to Southeast) migration from their settlement areas (Western part of the gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea), reproductive fish also make regular seasonal migrations from more shallow feeding grounds in summer to deeper spawning grounds in winter. Although halibut size is age and sex specific it also follows a cycle that has been related to halibut abundance. The average fish size seems to reflect density dependence in growth rate, where slower growth is associated with higher halibut (or other species) abundance, potentially due to less food available per fish.

Characteristics



Pacific halibut have diamond-shaped bodies. They are more elongated than most flatfishes, the width being about 1/3 of the length. There is a high arch in the lateral line over the pectoral fin, and it has a lunate, or crescent shaped tail, which is different from other flat fishes. Small scales are embedded in the skin. Halibut have both eyes on their dark or upper side. The color on the dark side varies, but tends to assume the coloration of the ocean bottom. The underside is lighter, appearing more like the sky from below. This color adaptation allows halibut to avoid detection by both prey and predator.

Food


Being strong swimmers, halibut are able to eat a large variety of fishes including cod, turbot, pollock, and some invertebrates such as octopus, crab and shrimp. Sometimes halibut leave the ocean bottom to feed on pelagic fish such as salmon, sand lance and herring.

Life cycle


Spawning takes place during the winter months with the peak of activity occurring from December through February. Most spawning takes place off the edge of the continental shelf in deep waters of 600 to 1500 ft (182.9 to 457.2 m). Male halibut become sexually mature at 7 or 8 years of age while females attain sexual maturity at 8 to 12 years. Females lay half a million to four million eggs annually, depending on the size of the fish.

Fertilized eggs hatch after about fifteen days. Free-floating larvae float for up to six months and can be transported several hundred miles counter-clockwise by North Pacific currents. During the free-floating stage, many changes take place in the young halibut, including the movement of the left eye to the right side of the fish. During this time the young halibut rise to the surface and are carried to shallower water by prevailing currents. At six months, the halibut has its adult form and is about 1.4 inches (3.6 cm) long. In the shallower water, young halibut then begin life as bottom dwellers. Most young halibut ultimately spend from five to seven years in rich, shallow nursery grounds like the Bering Sea.

Young halibut are highly migratory and generally migrate in a clockwise direction east and south throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Halibut in older age classes tend to be less migratory but continue to move predominately on a clockwise direction. Mature fish are also involved in winter spawning migrations towards deeper waters migrating across several areas in some instances. Research indicated that there may be small, localized spawning populations in deep waters such as in Chatham Straight in northern Southeast Alaska. However, because of the free-floating nature of larvae and subsequent mixing of juvenile halibut from throughout the Gulf of Alaska, there is only one known genetic stock of halibut in the northern pacific.

Halibut growth rates vary depending on locations and habitat conditions, but females grow faster than males. The oldest recorded female and male were 55 years old. The largest recorded sport caught halibut was 459 pounds (208.2 kg) near Unalaska, AK, in 1996.

Length and weight



As Pacific halibut grow longer, they increase in weight. The relationship between length and weight is not linear. The relationship between total length (L, in inches) and total weight (W, in pounds) for nearly all species of fish can be expressed by an equation of the form:


Invariably, b is close to 3.0 for all species, and c is a constant that varies among species. A weight-length relationship based on a least-squares fit to data published in 2003 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IHPC) suggests that, for pacific halibut, c = 0.00018872 and b = 3.24.

This relationship predicts that a 20 inch Pacific halibut will weigh about three pounds, a 36 inch halibut will weigh about 20 pounds, and that a 58 inch halibut will weigh about 100 pounds.

Commercial fishing



Commercial halibut fishing probably began in 1888 when three sailing ships from New England fished off the coast of Washington State.
As the industry grew, company-owned steamers carrying several smaller dories, from which the fishing was actually conducted, dominated the halibut industry. Subsequently, smaller boats of schooner design from 60 to 100 ft (18.3 to 30.5 m) were used by fishermen. These boats carried crews of five to eight and were specifically designed for halibut fishing. Today, many types of boats are used in the halibut industry. Most of the old-style halibut schooners have been replaced by more versatile craft that may also be used in commercial salmon serine, troll, gillnet, and crab fisheries.

Halibut gear consists of units of leaded ground line in lengths of 100 fathom (600 ft; 183 m) referred to as “skates.” Each skate has approximately 100 hooks attached to it. “Gangens,” or the lines to which the hooks are attached are either tied to or snapped onto the ground line. A “set” consists of one or more baited skates tied together and laid on the ocean bottom with anchors at each end. Each end has a float line with a buoy attached. Hooks are typically baited with frozen herring, octopus, or other fresh fish. Depending on the fishing ground, depth, time of year, and bait used, a set is pulled 2 to 20 hours after being fished. Longlines are normally pulled off the ocean floor by a hydraulic puller of some type. The halibut are cleaned soon after being boated and are kept on ice to retain freshness.
Homer, Alaska
Homer, Alaska
Homer is a city located in Kenai Peninsula Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska. According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population was 5,364. One of Homer's nicknames is "the cosmic hamlet by the sea"; another is "the end of the road"...

claims the title of "Halibut Capital of the world" because of the large volume of both sport and commercial halibut fishing in the area.

Sport fishing



Sport fishing for halibut in Alaska is a very popular activity; it is a strong fighter and one of the world’s largest bony fish with an impressive yield and firm, white flesh. Over 65 percent of the effort and harvest occurs in Kachemak Bay, Southeast Alaska, the Kodiak area, and near the mouth of Deep Creek in the Lower Cook Inlet.

Halibut taken by anglers are generally 15 to 20 lb (6.8 to 9.1 kg) in weight; however, fish over 150 pounds (68 kg) are regularly caught. The current Alaska state record for a sport-caught halibut is 459 lb (208.2 kg), and a fish must weigh at least 250 lb (113 kg) to qualify for the state’s trophy fish program. Anglers use stout saltwater gear to harvest halibut. Most anglers prefer to fish with bait, especially herring but also squid, octopus, cod pieces, or other small bottom fish. To get the bait down to the halibut, it is usually fished on a wire spreader or a sliding-sinker rig with sinker size 4 ounces (113 g) to 4 pounds (1.81 kg), depending on such factors as depth and current.

Halibut, along with salmon, provide substinence for several Pacific Coast native groups. Many of these groups smoke and dry the halibut for winter use. Sportsmen’s effort and interest in catching these delicious fish is increasing each year. In Southeast Alaska, halibut are second only to king salmon in sport angler preference. Fishing for Pacific halibut is regulated by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Members from the United States and Canada meet yearly to review research, check the progress of the commercial fishery, and make regulations for the next fishing season. The management of halibut fishing by this commission is intended to allow a sustainable yield of halibut.

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