Alaska Fish: Pacific Halibut

Alaska Marine Highway
Alaska's State Flower is the "Forget-Me-Not. Forget me not flowers are very fragrant in the evening and night time, though there is little or no scent in the daytime. They can be annual or perennial plants. Their seeds are found in small, tulip shaped pods along the stem to the flower.
Pacific halibut are the largest flatfish in Family Pleuronectidae. Halibut and other flatfish are flattened laterally, and swim sideways, with one side facing down and the other facing up. The upper side is typically gray to brown, or nearly black, with mottling and numerous spots to blend in with a sandy or muddy bottom. The underside is typically white. Virtually all halibut are right-eyed, meaning both eyes are found on the upper, dark side of the body. Left-eyed halibut are rare; one report suggested a ratio of about 1 in 20,000. In these fish, the eyes and dark pigment are on the left side of the body, and the fish swims with the right (white) side facing down.

The dorsal fin is continuous from near the eyes to the base of the tail, and the anal fin extends from just behind the anus to the same point on the other side. The mouth extends to the middle of the lower eye or beyond, and is nearly symmetrical. The scales are quite small and buried in the skin, making the skin appear smooth. The tail is broad, symmetrical, and lacks a distinct fork. The lateral line is strongly arched over the pectoral fin. The maximum reported size is over 8 feet in length and over 500 pounds.

Inexperienced anglers occasionally confuse Pacific halibut with arrowtooth flounder. Unlike halibut, arrowtooth flounder have coarse scales and prominent, needle-like teeth. The lateral line of arrowtooth flounder is barely curved over the pectoral fin. When cooked, arrowtooth flounder turn mushy and are generally considered inedible.

Female halibut grow faster and reach larger sizes than male halibut. The growth rate of halibut has changed over time. The growth rate was highest in the 1980s and lowest in the 1920s and 2000s. By the 2000s, 12-year-old halibut were about three-quarters the length and about one-half the weight they were in the 1980s. The growth rate is believed to decrease due to competition among halibut or between halibut and other species, such as arrowtooth flounder, that have a similar diet.

Juvenile and some adult halibut migrate generally eastward and southward, into the Gulf of Alaska coastal current, countering the westward drift of eggs and larvae. Halibut tagged in the Bering Sea have been caught as far south as the coast of Oregon, a migration of over 2,000 miles. Because of the extensive movements of juvenile and adult halibut, the entire eastern Pacific population is treated as a single stock for purposes of assessment. Research is continuing to determine if there are spawning sub-stocks of varying productivity.


Halibut also move seasonally between shallow waters and deep waters. Mature fish move to deeper offshore areas in the fall to spawn, and return to nearshore feeding areas in early summer. It is not yet clear if fish return to the same areas to spawn or feed year after year.

Pacific halibut are found on or near the continental shelf through much of the northern Pacific Ocean, from California northward to the Chukchi Sea, and from the Gulf of Anadyr, Russia southward to Hokkaido, Japan. They are typically found near the bottom over a variety of bottom types, and sometimes swim up in the water column to feed. They usually inhabit waters between 20 and 1,000 ft, but have been found at depths up to 3,600 ft. They prefer water temperatures in the range 37-46ยบ F.

Most male halibut are sexually mature by about 8 years of age, while half of the females are mature by about age 12. Most halibut spawn during the period November through March, at depths of 300 to 1,500 feet. Female halibut release anywhere from a few thousand to several million eggs, depending on the size of the fish.


halibut off the coast of Alaska

halibut swimming near alaska

Alaska Fish:

Alaska is home to more than 627 species of fish, according to the Alaska Division of Tourism.

Learn more about Alaskan fish

Arctic Char Arctic Grayling Burbot
Dolly Varden Halibut Lingcod
Northern Pike Salmon Salmon Shark
Trout Whitefish