What is a California Halibut?

Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee
California halibut baked with vegetables and a creamy sauce.
California halibut baked with vegetables and a creamy sauce.

The California halibut is a large, flat fish that belongs to the family Bothidae. The fish is also known by the common names fly swatter, barn door, Monterey halibut, chicken halibut, alabato, southern halibut, or the most descriptive term, flattie. Found along the western coast of North America from Baja, California, to the Quillayute River in British Columbia, the California halibut is a favorite among fishermen.

The California halibut is found along the western coast of North America, near Baja, California.
The California halibut is found along the western coast of North America, near Baja, California.

A large, oblong flatfish, the California halibut can reach lengths of up to 5 feet (1.5 m) and weigh up to 72 pounds (32 kg). The top of the fish is dark brown to black and the bottom is white, camouflaging it either against the bottom of the ocean or against the sky, depending on the angle it is viewed from. The top of the fish is defined by the color and also by a high arch in its middle, distinguishing it from other species of flatfish. The eyes of California halibut can be either on the left or right side, in spite of the fact that they belong to the scientific family of left-eyed flounders.

California halibut are easy to catch and prone to overfishing.
California halibut are easy to catch and prone to overfishing.

Their choice native environments are in the shallows of the ocean, often near the mouths of rivers and streams. They are also found in bays and estuaries, preferring to stay near rocky areas and on soft, sandy bottoms. Active day and night, the California halibut is a popular target for fishermen year-round.

Caught in the summer and early fall months when they move closer to shore to spawn, California halibut can be fished using hook and line or bottom trawl methods. Because they are easy to catch and have such limited range, they are prone to being overfished. Adding to the California halibut's difficulties are the defilement of choice bays and estuaries. Pollution has been such a cause for concern that the Environmental Defense Fund has issued health advisories regarding the capture and consumption of California halibut from certain areas that have been exposed to high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury.

Popular in the seafood industry, California halibut are sometimes confused with Pacific halibut, and can be marketed as such. Pacific halibut, also known as Alaskan halibut, is another flat, bottom-dwelling fish, but it typically buries itself in the sand, whereas California halibut does not. Baked, broiled, grilled, poached, deep fried, or pan fried, the California halibut can be prepared in a number of different ways for a tasty, healthy meal.

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    • California halibut baked with vegetables and a creamy sauce.
      By: Comugnero Silvana
      California halibut baked with vegetables and a creamy sauce.
    • The California halibut is found along the western coast of North America, near Baja, California.
      By: juan35mm
      The California halibut is found along the western coast of North America, near Baja, California.
    • California halibut are easy to catch and prone to overfishing.
      By: Fernbach Antal
      California halibut are easy to catch and prone to overfishing.