Alaska Halibut-Are Fish Smaller Than Years Past?

Alaska Halibut

Alaska halibut fishing was all we thought about when we first went to Alaska.  Those tasty halibut entrees in the restaurant were the obvious reason why.  Our family has caught many halibut over the years.  This will always be one of my favorite all time pics!

Giant Halibut caught in Old Harbor, AK

Nice 150 pound halibut

When you are standing on deck and drop the line to the bottom, the dream is that you will be struggling to pull in a huge halibut.  Have you ever heard someone refer to a halibut as a “barn door?”   Now that is a big fish!

I’m asked regularly about the size typically caught, how plentiful halibut are, and what is happening with the regulations to catch them.  This article will help you understand what is going on with the Alaska halibut fishing industry.

What’s Happening With The Alaska Halibut Population?

Alaska halibut are more plentiful than they were in 2010 according to the 2017 stock assessment of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) released on December 21, 2017.  The “spawning biomass” of halibut had declined significantly from 1996 to 2010 when it stabilized and has grown slightly since then.  The IPHC describes its population models in the 2017 stock assessment. By their own comments, the IPHC acknowledge that estimating halibut and other fish populations is a very difficult undertaking.    

Man with Alaska halibut

Alaska Halibut Fun Facts

Most male halibut reach maturity when approximately eight years old and are rarely more than three feet long.  Half of females are mature by age twelve.  Females are larger and can release several million eggs each year depending upon their size.  I’ve spoken with commercial offshore fishermen who tell me there are Alaska halibut so huge they let them go and never try to board them.  This is with huge commercial fishing boats!   In Alaska, halibut spawn in deep waters in the Gulf of Alaska and are carried by the Alaska Coastal Current hundreds of miles to coastal waters.  Small halibut feed on plankton and, as they age, feed on small crustaceans and small fish.   

Alaska halibut fishing in Old Harbor

Halibut are found throughout the Pacific Ocean from the Northwest U.S., British Columbia, and Alaska down the Russian Pacific coast to Japan.  Alaska halibut may swim thousands of miles and are known to live for more than 50 years.  Scientists do not know if halibut return to the same areas to spawn like salmon.  The entire eastern Pacific Ocean is treated as a single fishery for stock assessment purposes.

Why Are Fish Smaller?

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the average length and weight of Alaska halibut of each age increased from the 1920s to the 1970s and has decreased since then.  By the 2000s, twelve-year-old halibut were about three quarters the length and one half the weight they had been in the 1980s.  The reasons for the decline in size are unknown.

Some observers speculate that catching the larger female halibut have reduced the gene pool of larger fish.  Others believe there are more fish overall including more halibut and other species, such as the arrowtooth flounder, that compete for similar food.  The arrowtooth flounder has become the most common fish in the Gulf of Alaska.   Other theories include some unknown reduction in the food supply or changes in the way Alaska halibut age. 

International Pacific Halibut Commission-The Guys In Charge

The Pacific halibut stock is managed under the Pacific Halibut treaty between Canada and the United States. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is responsible for assessing the status of the stocks and setting harvest strategies and catch limits that provide for optimum yield. Within the United States, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is responsible for allocating the halibut resource among users and user groups fishing off Alaska.

The IPHC 94th Annual Meeting will be held in Portland, OR January 22-26, 2018.  The 2018 halibut fishing limits and fishing days will be announced shortly after the meeting.  Unconfirmed reports are saying there will be no halibut fishing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but there is nothing official yet.  As soon as this information is available, we will let you know.

Are You Ready to Catch Alaska Halibut?

There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a fun-filled and exciting fishing journey alongside some of your best friends and family members. While you are enjoying the camaraderie and teamwork of an exciting Kodiak Alaska halibut fishing experience, you can look forward to that awesome moment when you realize you just caught several dinners!  Give us a shout and we’ll plan that high-end fishing vacation for you. 

Baked Halibut Main Course

Baked Halibut Main Course

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