Halibut is a very valuable commercial fish, and therefore, no stranger to restaurant menus. It is a popular key ingredient for crispy, golden-brown beer-battered fish, savory fish cakes, creamy rich fish chowder, and of course, the ever-popular fish taco.
To those who have never seen halibut intact and swimming, it might be surprising that something that tastes so delicious looks so odd. Although halibut starts off its life as an average-looking fish with an eye on either side of their head, as the fish grows, its left eye actually migrates to the right side. This feature makes it perfect for them to act as bottom-dwelling halibut do – lying eye-side up in the sand, hiding from predators, and ambushing their prey.
Pacific halibut caught by bottom longline in B.C. or Alaska has been celebrated as an Ocean Wise choice since the program’s inception. It is a well-managed stock with healthy populations, and fishing by bottom longline results in little bycatch or habitat damage. The exciting news is that the Pacific halibut season opened last week, so you can expect plentiful, fresh Pacific halibut throughout British Columbia and the rest of Canada.
But what about Atlantic halibut? This fish has been such a popular choice historically that the species was overfished to the point of being added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 1996. It was also traditionally fished with bottom trawls, causing significant habitat damage and bycatch. The good news now is that some populations in the Canadian Atlantic are starting to return, and catching these fish by bottom longline (with much less bycatch and habitat damage) in the region has mostly replaced the use of bottom trawl. Although wild Atlantic halibut is not yet an Ocean Wise option and still remain on the IUCN Red List, great progress is being made in some regions and Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program is currently gathering information to review its status.
The other good news is that Atlantic halibut is currently being farmed in closed, in-land systems throughout Eastern Canada. This means that the entire operation does not come into contact with any natural ecosystems such as oceans or lakes, and can be a good choice for our oceans, recommended by Ocean Wise. Here are five reasons why farmed closed system Atlantic halibut is a great choice for the health of our oceans:
1. Does not deplete wild populations
Wild populations are inherently vulnerable due to its relatively slow growth rate and late age of reproductive maturity. Sourcing sustainably farmed Atlantic halibut affords the wild populations a break.
2. Does not negatively impact habitat
Since close-containment aquaculture facilities are on land, there is very low risk of any degradation of wild habitats in the water.
3. Will not affect wild populations
There is very low chance of any farmed halibut escaping into natural habitats because the farming system used is closed. This means there is no risk that farmed halibut will out-compete resident fish for resources, spread diseases, become an invasive species, or mix their genes with wild stocks.
4. Does not contaminate the ocean
Because these operations are fully enclosed, fish wastes and leftover food will not contaminate the ocean because water is treated and recirculated. Some companies are using fish wastes to grow seaweed or make fertilizer.
5. Supports local businesses
Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program works with three Atlantic halibut closed-system farms in the Maritimes: Scotian Halibut Limited, Canaqua Seafood Limited, and Halibut PEI. Buying locally is always a great way to support jobs and in these cases, it also keep residents in their home province!
Overfishing is the biggest issue facing our oceans today. Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program works with chef, restaurant, retail and market partners across Canada to provide sustainable seafood options for consumers. Look for the Ocean Wise symbol for Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice.