Pacific Halibut by Hook and Line

Coastwide Groundfish — British Columbia

Fish harvesters use a bottom longline to catch Pacific halibut. Baited hooks are attached to a line that is anchored to the ocean floor. A longline can be from one to three miles (1.6 to 5 km) long and have up to 2,000 hooks. The halibut fishery is part of an integrated multi-species fishery in B.C. that allows fish harvesters to keep several different species of cod, dogfish, flatfish and rockfish when fishing for halibut.

Bottom Longline with Hooks

Bottom Longline with Hooks

The longline consists of a long rope, spooled on a hydraulic drum, which fish harvesters set from the stern of their vessels. Baited hooks are fastened to this rope using clips or swivels. The longline is set along the ocean floor where bottom-dwelling fish live. It is marked on the ocean surface using a float and flagpole at each end. Fish harvesters can set several longlines at a time and haul them regularly to land their catch. Once aboard, the hooks are baited again, if need be, and the longline is reset.

Bottom Longline with Hooks

In B.C., many different species are caught on bottom longlines. These include halibut, sablefish, dogfish, lingcod, flatfish and rockfish. About 150 to 180 vessels actively participate in the halibut fishery each year. The vessels range in size from 35 to 80 feet (20 to 25 metres).

Conservation Measures

Under an integrated fisheries management plan, licensed fishing vessels must own or lease both an individual quota of halibut, but also other quota so that they can keep non-targeted species that might otherwise be thrown overboard. That means if halibut fishermen accidentally catch lingcod, for example, they must own or lease an equivalent amount of lingcod quota. This allows them to keep the lingcod or other non-target fish species and reduces bycatch (unwanted fish) mortality in the halibut fishery. A number of other measures address conservation. These include:

  • strict annual catch limits;
  • a limitation on the number of licensed fishing vessels;
  • restrictions on landing small fish;
  • vessel accountability for all catch through individual quotas;
  • electronic monitoring at sea via onboard video cameras; and
  • dockside monitoring of catch unloading.
Quality and Handling

Halibut caught by longline are individually hauled aboard, cleaned, washed and either iced or frozen at sea. With fresh catch, fishing vessels can stay at sea for more than a week. Freezer vessels can stay at sea much longer. After being hauled aboard, the halibut are flash-frozen to a core temperature of -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit). Freezing takes place within only hours of the halibut being caught so that when the fish is thawed it has the quality of being freshly caught. That’s why fishermen refer to frozen-at-sea halibut as “fresh-frozen.”

Harvesting Area

The halibut longline fishery occurs along the entire coast of British Columbia, which is divided into eight fishery management areas. Since 2002, rockfish conservation areas have been created to protect vulnerable fish stocks from commercial and recreational harvesting. There are currently 164 rockfish conservation areas providing refuge to 37 different rockfish species along the coast.


Pacific Halibut Food Info