The Harvest Process
Commercial wild Pacific halibut fishing takes place annually between mid-March and mid-November.
The exact season dates are determined each year at the International Pacific Halibut Commission Annual Meeting held in late January.
Wild Pacific halibut is commercially harvested one-by-one on-board sturdy fishing vessels. In Canada, by regulation, wild Pacific halibut can only be caught and retained using hook and line or trap gear. Most of the vessels participating in Canada’s commercial wild Pacific halibut fishery are between 10.97 and 13.72 metres (or 36 and 45 feet) long.
Each year about 2,800 tonnes (6.2 million pounds) net weight of wild Pacific halibut are commercially harvested in Canada, generating jobs and incomes for thousands of British Columbians and providing food for Canada and the world.
A typical commercial halibut fishing trip begins with a captain and three or four crew members preparing the vessel and then hailing out. Each vessel must hail out to a government-approved monitoring company to alert the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) of their intention to fish, and also to officially open the fishing trip records with government-approved service providers to ensure that the mandatory at-sea and dockside monitoring requirements are met.
Once the vessel reaches the fishing grounds, the hooks are baited with either fresh or frozen salmon, Alaskan pollock, squid, herring or a mixture. The crew marks the ends of each line with a flag and buoy, and lays the line out behind the boat. The gear sinks to the bottom of the ocean and is left in the water to soak for four to 24 hours depending on the time of year, bait used and conditions of the grounds. On average, however, wild Pacific halibut harvesters leave their gear to soak for about twelve hours.
After soaking for several hours, the crew pulls the lines on-board one hook at a time. The halibut are still alive as they are brought on-board and the ones that are too small to keep are released back into the ocean. By regulation, halibut that are below the commercial size limit of 81 cm (32 inches) must be released at the railing and not even brought on-board the vessel.
Once on-board, the fish are quickly stunned and bled to create a better top quality end product. The fish is then dressed by removing the gills and viscera (the organs in the cavities of the body, especially those in the abdominal cavity). The body cavity is scraped, washed and filled with ice. The fish are then stored in the hold of the vessel in layers separated by crushed ice.
The harvested wild Pacific halibut are brought to designated landing ports. Once at the processing plant, the fish are headed, washed and then either left whole or processed into other product forms, such as fillets and steaks.