Why is Halibut So Expensive?

by Charlie
Halibut fillet

If you, like many people, love the flavor of halibut, you might be wondering why this fish is so expensive. What justifies the price of halibut and can you get it cheaper anywhere?

Why is halibut so expensive? Halibut is expensive because the species is endangered and at major risk of extinction. This kind of fish does not reproduce until it is over ten years old, and since it can reach a good eating size by the time it is only around two, it is very common for the fish not to breed even once before they are taken from the water. Many countries have banned fishing.

Why is Halibut Endangered?

There are two major reasons for the massive decline in this species’ numbers: its popularity as a food and its slowness to reproduce. The combination of these factors has put a lot of pressure on the species and its survival is in question.

First, let’s look at the problem of its popularity.

Halibut is a popular food species partly because it is known to be expensive, which – in a vicious cycle – makes it in high demand for expensive restaurants and stores. The fish is very sought after for expensive dinner parties as well, since it is seen as a luxury option.

The fish can also provide four large fillets, meaning that it gives an excellent return for catching just one fish, and this means that more fishermen are likely to go after it.

Furthermore, halibut swim deep down, making catching one a more involved process. They can grow huge, and they are the world’s largest flatfish, but they are not farmed, so there are no cheap alternatives that allow the fish to be bred and marketed for a lower price (unlike fish such as salmon).

Halibut is also said to have an excellent flavor and a pleasant, delicate, but firm flesh. It has a mild, somewhat sweet taste, meaning that you can pair it with almost any other flavors, and it is very versatile.

This adds to its popularity, and coupled with strict fishing rules in many countries and the quotas that are allowed to be filled, it has driven the price up extraordinarily fast in recent years. In many places, it is impossible to buy cheap halibut.

Additionally, halibut grow quickly, and can reach a good size of around twelve inches by the time they are only two. This means that there is no incentive to throw back young ones as there would be with a species that grew less quickly. The fish that has been caught, while young, offers plenty of meat and will fetch an excellent price.

The rarer the fish gets, the higher the demand for it becomes, because it is seen as unusual and valuable. This unfortunately hampers efforts to protect the fish and curb fishing.

What about the breeding problem?

Because the fish don’t breed until they are ten years old, having the majority fished out before such a time has been disastrous for their numbers. Very few get to breeding age before they are caught, in spite of efforts to change this. Ten years is a long time!

Sadly, it is also very tricky to measure. A fisherman pulling the fish from the water cannot easily tell whether it has reached sexual maturity yet, and so cannot make an informed choice about whether to put it back and allow it to breed.

The extreme slowness in reaching sexual maturity, coupled with the demand for this fish, has led to reduced numbers, which in turn, has led to quotas and regulations that have driven the prices up. This increase in price has further driven demand, and increased the number of fishermen keen to catch them.

It is probably going to be a long time, if ever, before halibut recover their numbers in the sea. Even tight controls are not yet enough to see noticeable recoveries, and the pressure from both their evolutionary breeding tactics and our taste for expensive fish remains ongoing.

How Much Does Halibut Cost?

It will vary depending on where you live and the current market, but in general, halibut can cost between $20 and $65 per pound. Prices have seen a small decrease in some areas as the expense has driven down demand, but in other areas, shipping costs and shipping issues have driven up demand and prices.

Whether you can get halibut locally or not will depend on where you are and what you are prepared to pay for it. Many grocery stores do still stock it, but a buying club may be a better option if you wish to get halibut cheaply. However, there are minimum spends associated with this, so you will need a large freezer.

If you live close to the sea, you may find that you can buy halibut both fresh and comparatively cheaply, particularly because there are far fewer transportation costs associated with it.

How Big Do Halibut Get?

These fish can grow absolutely huge, and it is thought that they may be able to reach over four meters long. The heaviest caught was 418 pounds, and the largest caught from a shore was 153 pounds.

It is unlikely that many halibut these days will reach such sizes, because of the fishing pressure. These fish also have many natural predators that will gladly eat them while small, and unless they are given more time to breed, they will not be able to recover.

Should You Eat Halibut?

Every individual must make their own choices about what to consume and what they do to protect life on this planet, but it is worth being aware of the vulnerable status of halibut so that you can make an informed choice about it.

Many more people are turning toward vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and the issues associated with fishing halibut may be enough to deter you from eating it – but this is a choice only you can make.

Final Thoughts

Halibut is expensive because it is rare, partly due to reduced numbers of fish and partly due to fishing restrictions. This has driven up prices, and as an unfortunate by-product, made the fish more desirable in many places.

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