B.C.’s total halibut allocation for 2017 is 7.45 million pounds (150,000 more than last year), and according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the commercial fishery’s total allowable catch is 6.27 million pounds for 2017. Halibut can weigh as much as 300 kilograms and reach 2.7 metres in length. Halibut is one of the most popular fish amongst the ‘foodie’ community, with Homer, Alaska claiming to be the ‘Halibut Capital of the World’ due to the large volume of commercial halibut fishing in the area.
In 2013 Canada’s Pacific halibut export was valued at $44.5 million, an increase from $38.3 million and $28.9 million from the previous years, respectively. The U.S. market accounts for over 96 percent of Canada’s Pacific halibut exports, with the remaining amount being destined to Taiwan and Japan.
Halibut & The Commercial Fishing Industry
Commercial halibut fishing began in 1888 with three sailing ships from New England fished off the coast of Washington. As the industry began to grow, company owned steamers dominated the business. Later on, smaller boats used by fishermen carrying about 7 crew members started to get involved in the industry. Nowadays, though, these old smaller boats were replaced by more versatile craft that are also used in commercial salmon seine, troll, crab fisheries and gill net.
Halibut fishing season in British Columbia coincides with salmon fishing season. Although halibut do not usually migrate long distances like salmon, halibut are known to be fished best in the summer months. This is due to the fact that halibut generally spend winters in deeper waters.
-Cool Fact: Did you know that due to their large size, halibut are less vulnerable to predation than most marine species?
Halibut are very strong swimmers and are able to eat a large variety of fishes like cod, turbot, and pollock. Halibut also eat some invertebrates, such as octopus, crab, and shrimp. Sometimes, halibut feed on salmon, herring and even seal remains. Halibut can live until they are about 12 years old, although some much older than that have been recorded. Females grow faster and live longer than males.
Male halibut usually become sexually mature at eight years of age, while females become sexually mature at 8 to 12 years.
Spawning takes place during the winter, with the peak level of activity happening from December to February. Fertilized eggs hatch after 15 days, on average. Free-floating larvae then float for up to six months, when they can be transported several hundred miles by North Pacific Currents. During this stage, various changes affect the young halibut, like the migration of the left eye to the right side of the fish making the colour of the left side fade. After the free-floating six months, the halibut has its adult form and is about 1.4 inches long. Most young halibut, spend their early life (5 to 7 years) in shallow nursery grounds, like the Bering Sea.
Halibut Vs. Salmon
Even though salmon is considered more of a struggle to fish, halibut is also considered a unique, exciting and valuable catch. Unlike salmon, halibut are not an aggressive fish, and a single halibut will often provide great amounts of firm and delicious meat, with great versatility. Halibut can be broiled, fried, deep-fried, baked or grilled.
Although halibut tend to migrate in a clockwise direction east and south throughout the Gulf of Alaska during its early life, halibut in the older age range tend to move less, usually migrating in a clockwise direction too. During the winter spawning season, mature halibut move towards deeper water, while research also shows that a small localized spawning population may occur in deep waters like Chatan Straight in Southeast Alaska. However, due to the free-floating nature of larvae and young halibut, only one genetic stock of halibut is known in the northern Pacific.
Commercial Halibut Fishing
Nowadays, commercial Pacific halibut fishing is regulated by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, where members from both, the U.S. and Canada meet every year to review the progress of commercial fishery as well as regulations. By controlling Pacific halibut fishing, the commission allows maximum sustained yield of halibut.
Russia and Japan also fish halibut, but it tends to not be as high-quality as the American and Canadian one. Russia, though, has been making improvements that will allow their halibut be of higher quality.
British Columbia halibut fisheries are now operating under an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system, where fishermen ‘‘own’’ their quota and can fish for it whenever they want during the halibut season (May to September).
The Transferable Quota (ITQ) system
Transferring halibut quota under the ITQ system can be a little overwhelming, with a license and quota market that is fragmented with many industry players. Additionally, it is very hard to tell which licenses and quotas are available, what they are worth and more market information.
¨Finding things out takes lots of phone calls and emails, lots of patience, and is a time consuming burden on the industry. Often it is only the big fishing companies who have a full-time staff dedicated to tracking and securing quota, with independent fishermen at a disadvantage.¨- James DeGreef, CEO and Co-Founder of SeafoodX.
Fortunately enough, SeafoodX created a new online marketplace that offers very innovative features to support the fishing industry. SeafoodX eases the quota and license acquisition process by connecting companies and fishermen who own extra quotas and licenses with fishermen and companies in need for them. The marketplace works with a bidding system in which fishermen bid according to what certain licenses and quotas are worth to them. Additionally, the marketplace is a risk-free platform since fishermen and companies leasing out have the option of declining a bid if the price is not enough.
To learn more about SeafoodX click here.