Halibut is not strongly associated with contaminants, but may contain some mercury. Consumers should check for current warnings to determine safe consumption levels of fish, in particular for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant and children: www.epa.gov/ost/fish.
Pacific halibut populations, including those in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, have been monitored and managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) for almost 100 years. Although Pacific halibut are not officially deemed overfished, the IPHC has found through regular assessments that the exploitable (catchable) biomass has declined by 60 percent in the past ten years and that the fish being caught are much smaller than they used to be. These are both potential indicators for excessive fishing pressure. The IPHC has allowed for reduced commercial limits on the number of halibut that can be landed, and recreational fishermen may only catch one halibut per trip. Both of these restrictions are intended to prevent overfishing of halibut – and are signs of attentive management, however biomass has continued to decline between the start and end of 2011, indicating that these measures are not sufficient. A large part of the problem is not just the directed halibut fishery, but also bycatch of halibut in other fisheries (which results in the fishes removal and mortality) and charter fishing, issues which have been examined and addressed in California, Washington and Oregon, but are still ongoing in Alaska. Fishing for halibut is limited to hook-and-line capture, which usually results in minimal habitat damage, and all halibut captured by other means must be returned to the sea. Halibut landings and bycatch are carefully monitored and trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea are often limited by calculations related to bycatch mortality. For these reasons, there is hope that the population will rebound in the future, but Alaska will have to take further measures to address bycatch and charter fishing first.
Note: Atlantic halibut populations have been heavily overfished through the 19th and early 20th centuries, and have not recovered. Currently, the Atlantic halibut direct fishery is closed. Atlantic halibut is only caught accidentally when fishing for other types of fish. For more information, see “Flatfish, Atlantic.”