About The Species
Although populations are well below target levels, U.S. wild-caught Atlantic halibut is still a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under a rebuilding plan that allows limited harvest by U.S. fishermen.
Significantly below target population levels.
Not subject to overfishing.
Trawl gear used to harvest Atlantic halibut have minimal or temporary effects on habitat. Area closures and gear restrictions protect sensitive habitats from bottom trawl gear. Hook and line gear has little or no impact on habitat.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- The Atlantic halibut stock is at a very low level. Fishing is still allowed, but at reduced levels.
- According to the 2012 stock assessment, the Atlantic halibut stock is overfished, but is not subject to overfishing. The estimated biomass is only 3 percent of its target level. It will remain in a rebuilding plan until it is rebuilt. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- Atlantic halibut can be distinguished from other right-eyed flounders by their large size, concave caudal fin, large, gaping mouth, and arched lateral line.
- One of the largest fish found in the Gulf of Maine.
- Atlantic halibut is the largest species of flatfish in the world.
- Atlantic halibut can reach up to 15 feet in length
- The largest Atlantic halibut recorded was taken off Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and weighed 615 pounds (eviscerated with the head still attached). It likely weighed 700 pounds when it was alive.
- It is a long-lived, late-maturing species that can live up to 50 years.
- Average age at maturity is about 10 years.
- Full grown females average 100 to 150 pounds, while males tend to be smaller.
- Females are batch spawners, producing several batches of eggs each year.
- In Canadian waters, Atlantic halibut spawn from late winter to early spring, while spawning can last through September for fish from Georges Bank to the Grand Banks.
- Halibut food preferences vary by fish size: smaller fish (up to 12 inches in length) feed almost exclusively on invertebrates. The proportion of fish in the diet increases as the fish grow in size until they feed almost exclusively on fishes when they reach approximately 31 inches.
Where They Live
- Atlantic halibut are found from Labrador and Greenland to Iceland, and from the Barents Sea south to the Bay of Biscay and Virginia.
- In U.S. waters, halibut is most common in the Gulf of Maine.
- NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage Atlantic halibut.
- Atlantic halibut, along with other groundfish in New England waters, are managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which includes:
- Permitting requirements for commercial vessels.
- Separate management measures for recreational vessels.
- Year-round and seasonal area closures to protect spawning fish and habitat.
- Minimum fish sizes to prevent harvest of juvenile fish.
- Annual catch limits, based on best available science.
- An optional sector (catch share) program can be used for cod and other groundfish species. The sector program allows fishermen to form harvesting cooperatives and work together to decide when, where, and how they harvest fish.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
Atlantic halibut is managed under the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery Management Plan (FMP) along with 12 other species of groundfish. Collectively, these 13 species are referred to as the Northeast multispecies complex.