California Halibut, Paralichtys californicus: The California Halibut has a uniform dark chocolate brown appearance with a series of small pale dots randomly spaced over the body. It has a large mouth with the upper jaw extending behind the eyes and a set of strong canine teeth.
This fish species is characterized by the shape of its tail which has a margin that is arched in the middle with outer edges that are square-cut or slightly indented. The long lateral line is significantly arched over the pectoral fin with branches into the upper eye and below the lower eye.
The California Halibut has pectoral fins on both sides of body. It can be easily confused with the Cortez Halibut, Paralichtys aestuarius (broad head profile, no spots on its body, smaller wide fan- like caudal fin and at least 24 gill rakers) and the Speckled Halibut, Paralichtys woolmani (not more than 20 gill rakers).
The California Halibut reaches a maximum size of 5 feet in length and 60 pounds. It is found in the first 600 feet of the water column over sandy and muddy soft bottoms. It is an opportunistic feeder, lying in wait, well camouflaged and partially submerged, on the ocean floor.
In Mexican fishing waters , the California Halibut is described as only found north of Magdalena Bay on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula, and absent from all other Mexican waters. However, we have collected fish very close to the tip of the Baja on the Pacific side indicative of a significant range extension for this species.
t may also occur as a "trapped" population in the northern Sea of Cortez. See photos and notes below.
Southerly range extension for this species: We have also documented the existence of this species as far south as 23.25N and 110.14W, which is previously unknown.
Due to its high food value in Southern California, the California Halibut has been a major targeted species. This has caused overfishing by both commercial fishermen, with annual catches of up to 1,000 tons via gillnets and otter trawls, and recreational anglers catching up to 300,000 per year. The California Halibut is considered to be a highly regulated species.
The California Halibut is a member of the Paralichthyidae Family of Left Eyed Flounders which includes flounders and sanddabs and the Paralichtys Genus which has only flounders. The California Halibut is an exceptional species, with 60 percent of the individuals having eyes on the left side and 40 percent on the right side.
Possible northern Sea of Cortez population: We have received a series of excellent halibut photos from Mike Auditore and Shawn Gustafson, who fish the extreme northeast corner of the Sea of Cortez out of Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco), Sonora, Mexico. Due to the size of the fish, it was logical to assume that they had caught California Halibut, Paralichtys califorenicus. However, a consultation of the scientific literature and our network of professional fish experts yielded mixed views on both the identity of the species pictured below and the likelihood of the California Halibut actually residing in the Sea of Cortez. We really cannot tell from these photos if these are California Halibut, Cortez Halibut, Paralichtys aestuarius, or Speckled (Dappled) Flounder, Paralichtys woolmani. Clearly, the best way to get this resolved is to have a professional present during the collection process. We would like to thank Dr. Lloyd Findley, Guaymas; Dr. Milton Love, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Dr. Ross Robertson, Smithsonian Institute, Panama; for sharing their views and comments about the fish pictured below. --John Snow.