Pacific halibut were fished historically by the indigenous peoples inhabiting the lands bordering the eastern north Pacific Ocean, and was included in the diet of many groups who conducted their fishery by hook and line from large canoes, which could venture as far as 20 miles from shore (32 km). The hooks were elaborately carved and were selective for large fish suitable for drying and smoking. The technique of these fishers was well developed and very efficient as the following excerpt by F. Boas1 explains:
Halibut are caught with hooks made of crooked branches of red or yellow cedar, attached to fishing-lines made of red cedar bark sixty fathoms long. The halibut hook is tied to the fishing line with split spruceroots. Devilfish (octopus) is used as bait. The fishing lines are taken out by the fishermen in their canoes and thrown overboard. After a while they are pulled up again. After the halibut hooks have been taken up, the fish are killed by clubbing. Then hooks are thrown back into the water. At this place it is said that there were two fishermen in the canoe, who distinguished the halibut they had caught by placing them with the head toward the owner. The fishermen had his knees covered with a mat.
Today, in addition to providing active commercial and recreational fisheries opportunities to indigenous groups, Pacific halibut continues to be an important subsistence and ceremonial fish. Subsistence Pacific halibut is a traditional food that has always been relied on to feed the communities. Ceremonially, Pacific halibut is used to feed people at culturally important events like weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies. Several tribes in the U.S. have specific allocations or boundaries for their usage only.
Subsistence fisheries for Pacific halibut represent less than two million pounds of removals annually, with most of those removals coming from British Columbia and the eastern Gulf of Alaska.
1Boas, F. 1910. Tsimshian Mythology. Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report 1909-1910, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., pp. 27-1037.