Creature Feature: Pacific Halibut

Pacific halibutThe Pacific halibut ranges from Santa Rosa Island northward off California, but most are found north of Fort Bragg. They may be found from 20 to 3,600 ft. depths, and prefer deep, sandy bottom environments.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Right-eyed.
  • Dark brown to black on the eyed side, white on blind side.
  • Body elongate, rather slender, diamond-shaped.
  • Corner of mouth forward of eye (in California halibut the corner of mouth extends beyond the eye).
  • Indented tail; high arch on lateral line over the pectoral fin.

Life History & Other Notes
The diet of the Pacific halibut includes fishes, crabs, clams, squid, and other invertebrates.

Females become mature at 8 to 16 years of age (average 12); however males mature earlier. Spawning takes place from November through January. A large female weighting 140 lb. may produce more than 2½ million eggs. The eggs and young drift with the currents, gradually rising toward the surface as development proceeds. When first hatched, the young swim upright; however, they soon start to turn to their left side and the left eye migrates to the right side of their bodies. By early spring, the transformation is complete, and the young settle to the bottom in shallow waters.

Sport anglers in California usually catch smaller Pacific halibut than are available to the north. They are typically caught on crab, shrimp, squid, and other invertebrates.


 Pacific Halibut Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Hippoglossus stenolepis

Other Common Names: northern halibut, right halibut, barn door (large fish)

     Range & Habitat : Santa Rosa Island north; most common from Fort Bragg north, on deep sandy bottoms

Length & Weight: To 8+ ft. Males to 123 lb., females to 509 lb.

Life Span: To 42 years

Diet & Suggested Bait: Feeds on fishes (try sanddabs), crabs, clams, squid. Use heavy tackle.


Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book. Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to publications@wildlife.ca.gov.

2 thoughts on “Creature Feature: Pacific Halibut

    • According to our records, there were some unverified reports of commercial catch in the Los Angeles area in the early 2000s, and a likewise unverified recreational landing in San Diego in 2011 – both were likely cases of misidentification/misrecording. There has been one recreational landing recorded at Santa Cruz Island this year. The established range for this fish extends from Santa Rosa Island in Southern California to the Bering Sea/Sea of Japan, though ranges for some species have shifted in the past few years due to warm water influx into California waters from the south.

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