Halibut Study Underway in New England

NOAA Fisheries reports that Atlantic halibut stocks may be on the upswing.

In recent years, commercial fishermen have been catching more halibut, sparking researchers to look more closely at the life history, age, growth, and reproduction of the fish.

A three-part study is underway to better understand basic life history, stock structure, and the seasonal movements of halibut. The Northeast Fisheries Science Center is helping with the life history component, especially reproductive biology.

The study focuses on three questions: 1) When and where do halibut spawn? 2) Is there a single overall population in the region, or are there several populations? 3) And when do they mature?

A problem with trying to study halibut has been that not enough fish are caught to comprise a viable sample size. The study needed 450 to 500 additional samples from about 250 fish, but NOAA researches needed the help of commercial fishermen to achieve that goal.

The Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance in Chatham worked with researchers to provide training for commercial fishermen who happened to catch halibut in their nets. They taught the fishermen how to collect biological data from halibut needed for the study.

The fishermen learned how to gather the most important samples for a basic biology study: heart, spleen, gonad (reproductive organ), earbones (for aging), and a fin clip. They also familiarized themselves with the data sheet used to record fishing location, time, and the length and weight of the fish. Researchers could then match that information back to the sample.