Answers to fishy questions

I’m going to answer a couple of the most often asked questions at the restaurant.

Why is halibut so expensive?

Halibut is perhaps the most valuable of the groundfish fisheries in North America. The U.S. and Canada do not want another Grand Banks incident. I’m referring to when the cod stocks were all but collapsed in the early 90s which resulted in the Mulroney government put a moratorium on cod fishing, nearly sinking Newfoundland’s economy.

Fortunately for the Pacific halibut industry, a number of proactive controls have been put into place to avoid a similar collapse. Onboard monitoring cameras, reporting of catch and discards, and dockside monitoring of landings are all tools being used to keep the fishery healthy.  Of course there is always supply and demand, so it’s the International Pacific Halibut Commission that sets the quotas for halibut caught.

Halibut for dinner.

In 2011, it was found that adult flatfish (halibut is a flatfish) were disappearing at alarming rates. The exact cause was unknown. Theories ranged from over fishing and illegal fishing to ocean acidification. Quotas are now about half of what they used to be and the Pacific halibut population has made gains and is now considered a sustainable choice by MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and Ocean Wise.

Halibut fishing doesn’t sound like a bad gig, right? Well it’s like farming; it takes a life time to build up a profitable business. A decent boat suitable for commercial halibut fishing will set you back about $1.2 million and about $300 worth of diesel fuel per trip. The dockside monitoring that I mentioned earlier comes with a fee of about $1700. You will not be able to make those trips alone either, and halibut fishing is definitely skilled labour. 

With all that being said, how come you can get halibut and chips for $11 elsewhere? Chances are, you’re getting flounder from California. In fact about one third of fish sold in Canada is mislabelled, but that’s another story.

What is rockfish?

Up until the 90s rockfish was not sought after. An unwanted by-catch of various west coast trawl fisheries. However recreational anglers caught onto just how good they are and the rockfish populations declined. Stronger management practices have been put into place and things are looking good for the rockfishes’ future.

Fish tacos at Hammerheads.

Due to the previous reputation of the rockfish, you may find it labelled as Pacific snapper. To compare it to haddock which is a species most of us are familiar with, It’s thicker and meatier with a flavour profile about as strong or even slightly milder. It is one of my personal favourites for fish and chips. It goes beautifully in tacos, curries, or simply pan fried with butter and lemon. It’s a favourite among those who work in the restaurant industry. Highly underrated, try some next time you are planning fish for dinner.

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