Fishing season for halibut is in the summer and fall when it is available fresh and of optimum quality. Frozen halibut is available throughout the year. A fletch refers to a large halibut fillet. One halibut will yield four fletches. Halibut also yield roundish cheeks which are extracted from their head area. Halibut cheeks are sweet flavored and are considered a delicacy.
Both Alaska and British Columbia halibut fisheries now operate under an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) system. Under the ITQ system, fishermen "own" their quota and can fish for it anytime from March 15th through November 15th.
Halibut is also fished for in Russia and Japan. Russia and Japan halibut are smaller, averaging 10 to 30 pounds, but have higher oil content.
Alaska halibut accounts for 80% of the North America harvest of Pacific halibut. Commercial halibut fishing began in the 1890's with company-owned steamers carrying several small dories (two-man row boats), from which the fishing actually was conducted. Thereafter, smaller 60' to 100' schooner type boats, specifically designed for halibut fishing, were used in the fishery carrying crews of 5 to 8 deckhands. Most halibut boats used today are more versatile and also take part in the salmon and crab fisheries. Today, commercial Pacific halibut fishing is regulated by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
Halibut are caught using the "long-line" method. This fishing gear consists of units of leaded ground lines in lengths of 100 fathoms which are referred to as "skates". Each skate has approximately 100 hooks spread out along its length. A "set" consist of one or more baited skates tied together and laid on the ocean bottom with anchors at each end. Hooks are baited with frozen herring or other fresh fish.
Being a flatfish, halibut have both eyes on the upper dark side. Halibut spawn in the winter with peaks for December through February. Most spawning takes place off the continental shelf in deep waters of 200 to 300 fathoms. Females lay two to three millions eggs annually, depending on the size of the halibut. Fertilized eggs hatch in about fifteen days. Younger halibut, up to 10 years, are highly migratory and generally migrate in a clockwise direction east and south throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Older halibut tend to be less migratory.
Halibut is prized for its delicate sweet flavor, snow-white color and firm flaky meat. It is an excellent source of high-quality protein and minerals, low in sodium, fat and calories and contains a minimum of bones. Halibut is used in variety of recipes including main dishes, salads and soup. Baked halibut as well as grilled and broiled has a supreme flavor.