Atlantic Halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus)


The Atlantic halibut is among the largest bony fish in the world and a member of the Pleuronectidae family of right-eyed flounder. The flounder has a unique type of maturation from larvae to adult stage, in which one eye migrates to the opposite side of the head.

The Atlantic halibut is a highly prized table fish, with white, tender flesh, but it is such a deep-dwelling fish that it is seldom deliberately pursued by anglers. It may be caught incidentally by anglers fishing for other deep-ocean dwellers. It has historically been an extremely important market species, but it has been greatly overfished by commercial interests, who primarily catch it by bottom longlining.

Identification

The body is wide and somewhat flattened, rimmed by long dorsal and anal fins. The lateral line, which has a scale count of about 160, arches strongly above the pectoral fin. The dorsal fin has 98 to 106 rays and the anal fin has 73 to 80 rays. The teeth are equally well equipped in both sides of the jaw. Its coloring is usually pearly white and featureless on the blind side. Some specimens, nicknamed “cherry-bellies,” have a reddish tint on the blind side.


Size

Atlantic halibut weighing between 300 and 700 pounds have been reported, and the all-tackle rod-and-reel record is 355 pounds.

Spawning behavior

Spawning occurs from late winter through early spring in deep water. The eastern Atlantic fish spawn from March through May. A female can release up to 2 million eggs, and the fish move shallower after spawning.

Food and feeding habits

The Atlantic halibut is a voracious feeder, pursuing its prey in the open water. It forages primarily on fish, including cod and their relatives—ocean perch, herring, skates, mackerel, and other flounder. It also eats crabs, mussels, lobsters, and clams.

Other Names

common halibut, giant halibut, right-eyed flounder, chicken halibut (under 20 pounds); Dutch: heilbot; Finnish: ruijanpallas; French: flétan de l’Atlantique; Icelandic: heilagfiski; Japanese: ohyô; Norwegian: kveite; Portuguese: alabote; Spanish: fletán del Atlántico, hipogloso; Swedish: hälleflundra, helgeflundra.

Distribution

The Atlantic halibut occurs in North Atlantic waters; in North America it ranges from Labrador to Virginia. This species does not occur in near-freezing polar waters, as many people believe; there, it is replaced by the Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides).

Habitat

A deep-water species, the Atlantic halibut seldom enters water shallower than about 200 feet and is commonly found to 3,000 feet. It inhabits cold (40° to 50°F) water over sand, gravel, or clay bottoms.
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