Atlantic Halibut

By: Deborah Reid

Hippoglossus hippoglossus

On our counter, the pristine meaty flesh has a porcelain-white, translucent appearance. The fillets are from the largest flatfish species in the world, averaging 92 to 130 cm (3 to 4 ft.) in length and weighing less than 100 kg (220 lbs.). The meat has a firm texture, large moist flakes when cooked and a delicate, sweet flavour. Versatility is one of its many attributes. It doesn’t require chef credentials to prepare—sliced thin and eaten raw for sashimi or crudo, pan roasted in butter, or steamed with aromatics in a parchment pouch—it pairs perfectly with a world of flavours. The bones make an excellent, gelatin-rich, stock. A lean, low-fat fish, it’s high in protein, B-vitamins and is a moderate source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Atlantic halibut is native to the temperate and arctic waters of the northern Atlantic and is found off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Nova Scotia. A diamond-shaped groundfish, both eyes are on the right side where the skin is uniformly dark chocolate, olive or slate colour while the underside is pale. Young fish can have a more mottled colouration. It can live up to 50 years with males maturing at seven to eight years and females at ten to eleven years. They feed on crustaceans like crabs and prawns and lie motionless and invisible on the seabed, capturing any fish that pass within reach. Their size makes them less vulnerable to predators.

Beau Gillis is a long-line fisher from Freeport Nova Scotia who catches Atlantic halibut along the continental shelf. A longline is a rope to which baited hooks are fastened by shorter lines. It’s set on the ocean floor and is hauled in to land the catch. Hooks can be baited again. His most significant competitors are commercial trawlers who pull in considerable bycatch and can damage the seafloor. The Atlantic halibut longline fishery is at their highest historical levels and has been stable since 2013. There are management measures to protect the species including dockside monitoring, mandatory logbooks, predetermined fishing periods, limits on the size and number of hooks allowed per line, and by-catch protocols.