Why Is Halibut So Expensive? [Plus 6 Alternatives]

Most of my life, I have watched cooking shows, like Hell’s Kitchen, which means I have also seen Gordan Ramsey ‘passionately’ emphasize the importance of properly cooking halibut. On delivery day, the cooks are even instructed to be careful while carrying the large fish, due to its high price.

However, I have never had the opportunity to try halibut—and it’s not because the white, flaky fish doesn’t appeal to me.

“Why?” You may ask. 

Because halibut is so expensive where I live that even restaurants that feature pricey imports like Wagyu beef, caviar, and saffron, do not serve halibut.

This begs the question: Why is halibut so expensive? I found the answer is surprisingly simple.

Halibut is a premier choice because it is high nutrition and low-risk fish to eat. However, unless you are purchasing a whole halibut at a local fish market, you can pay anywhere from $20 to $40 per pound. 

Halibut is expensive is because wild populations are struggling to replete due to high demand. Additionally, wild and farmed halibut can only be produced and sourced in the cold northern waters of the Atlantic and Pacific, and farming is labor-intensive. These all contributed to high shipping costs as well.

If halibut is such a labor-intensive fish and is so expensive, then why is it globally in demand? Why are people willing to pay so much money for halibut? In this article, we’ll address the benefits of halibut (including, fresh versus frozen), the costs and logistics, and alternative choices to halibut.

What Is Halibut?

Halibut is a type of large flatfish that resides mostly in the northern waters of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The average fish is between 25-50 pounds, but when left alone halibut are known to reach up to 8 feet long and over 400 pounds.

‘Halibut’ can refer to Hippoglossus stenolepis (Pacific Halibut) or Hippoglossus hippoglossus (Atlantic Halibut). Wild Alaskan Halibut Fillets (Four 6 oz. Halibut Fillets)

Types Of Halibut

There are two types of halibut, Atlantic (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) and Pacific (Hippoglossus stenolepis). While technically Atlantic halibut is the ‘true’ halibut, the Pacific halibut is essentially identical in regards to cooking but grows much larger.

Greenland turbot and California flounder are both frequently mistaken for halibut, as they are both large flatfishes.

1. Demand Of Halibut

Although fish is commonly a protein demand for coastal communities, as new generations are looking for healthier, environmentally-friendly protein options, they turn towards fish like halibut. It is known for having a very mild taste that goes well with bold flavors. 

The demand for halibut simultaneously continues to fund the repletion of the Atlantic halibut population and farming of Pacific halibut. Halibut is particularly in demand in North America (Canada and the United States) because a majority of wild halibut derives from Alaska.

As a result, unless you live close to where halibut is farmed or fished, you will likely be paying hefty shipping fees.

Factors In Shipping Costs

It’s best to only ship halibut if you are ordering large amounts. Ordering at least 10 pounds can reduce your unit price by up to 75%. Online retailers tend to sell 25 to 35-pound halibut, which means they’d strongly prefer you buy as much of the fish as possible to avoid waste.

On average halibut fish is 25-50 lbs., with a 50-75% yield rate. This means that one halibut can usually produce anywhere from 12-35 lbs. of meat or, potentially, over 35 servings. 

2. Production Of Halibut

While Atlantic halibut is usually more preferred due to its stronger taste and fattier flesh, high demand and unsustainable management has caused it to become endangered; consequentially, commercial fishing of Atlantic halibut is prohibited U.S. waters.

As a result, most commercially consumed halibut is farmed Pacific halibut since it is the more sustainable option. However, this contributes to why halibut is so expensive—farming halibut is difficult because the cold-water fish grows slowly, requires a special diet, and has specific environmental needs regarding temperature and sun-exposure.

In summary, farming Pacific halibut is a slow, cost-intensive process, and commercially consuming Atlantic halibut is unsustainable.

3. Halibut Is Nutritious And Safe (Mostly)

Part of why halibut is in demand is because healthier protein options are rising in popularity. As far as healthy fish goes, halibut is definitely a strong contender. 

The most common cuts of halibut are fillets and steaks. As a result, halibut can be purchased as fillets, steaks, or whole. For the purposes of this article, I provided the nutrition for one serving.

Fortunately, it should be noted that both wild and farmed halibut are found to be equally nutritious and safe—regardless of whether fresh or frozen. Since fish is frozen immediately, it has the same nutritional and taste quality as fresh fish. Unfortunately, halibut is about equally expensive fresh or frozen.

Vitamins & Minerals

Halibut is extremely rich in ‘macronutrients’, such as:

  • Selenium
  • Niacin
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6

4. Halibut Is High In Protein

In addition to being full of vitamins, halibut is also an incredible source of protein. One serving (160 grams) of halibut is worth 42 grams of protein.

5. Healthy Fats Like Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Halibut is chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids. One serving of halibut provides approximately the daily recommendation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for balancing cholesterol, preventing blood clots, and lowering blood pressure. Alaskan Halibut Fillet (4 POUNDS)

Halibut Is Safe To Eat For Most People

There are low-to-moderate amounts of mercury and purine in halibut

The mercury level is safe when halibut is consumed in moderation; however, people who are pregnant or may become pregnant should take the usual amount of caution recommended for eating fish.

People with kidney diseases or a history of kidney stones should avoid halibut, as they are more at risk of being negatively impacted by the purine levels.

Six Alternatives To Halibut

While halibut is loved for its mild, sweet taste and flakey white flesh, it’s not the only white-flesh fish in the sea. Many compare the taste and texture of halibut to tilapia, which is much cheaper.

Cost Comparison Chart For Alternatives

For your convenience, the fish are ordered from least to most expensive when frozen (except halibut at the top for comparison).

Fresh Frozen
Halibut $30 $26.63
1. Tilapia $6.56 $3.33
2. Cod $11 $5
3. Flounder $26.70 $5.14
4. Haddock $27 $6.14
5. Striped Bass $16.55 $10.20
6. Turbot $26.70 $12

In order to find the cheapest average price for each type of fish, prices were compared across websites like Walmart, Tesco, Nordic Catch, and more.

While tilapia is overwhelmingly the cheapest option, there are of course other aspects to consider when looking at alternatives to halibut. Fortunately, as you keep reading, you can review the nutritional information yourself!

1. Tilapia

Tilapia is native to Africa; however, a majority of globally consumed tilapia derives from fish farms in China. This significantly contributes to the low price of both fresh and frozen tilapia.

Tilapia is ideal for farming because it grows fast, eats a cheap diet, and doesn’t mind crowds. It is also a decent source in: niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, selenium, and potassium. It also has 26 grams of protein.

My only word of concern is that because tilapia has high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, it may not be a good choice for anyone with inflammatory diseases (e.g., heart disease). Sea Best Tilapia Fillets, 16 Ounce (Pack of 10), 1 Pound (Pack of 10)

2. Cod

Cod is a popular fish that can be found in the Atlantic and Pacific. It is a good source of vitamins B12 and B6, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium. Cod also has 19 grams of protein.

It should be noted that Cod is a low-fat fish, so it is not a good source for omega-3 fatty acids.

White cod has the benefit of being low in mercury, it is important to cook fresh cod all the way or buy previously frozen cod in order to avoid parasites. Fresh Frozen Wild Alaskan Cod by Northwest Wild Foods - Pacific Cod, Flaky, White Fish, Boneless, Skin-on, Sustainably Harvested (12 x 6 Ounce Fillets)

3. Flounder

Flounder is another popular, inexpensive fish. Sometimes it is interchanged with the fish ‘sole’ because the characteristics and nutrition are so similar.

It is a good source of vitamins B12 and B6, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. It has 21 grams of protein. Flounder :The Ultimate Recipe Guide

4. Haddock

It is sometimes called scrod, which is often exchanged with cod in recipes, due to similarities in taste and texture.

Haddock has 30 grams of proteins, and it a good source of phosphorus and selenium. It is also low in mercury.

Unfortunately, haddock is a very low-fat fish, so it is not a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Fresh Caught Haddock Fillets - 8 pounds

5. Striped Bass

While striped bass used to be over-fished it is not anymore.

In addition to its 28 grams of protein, it is a good source of:

  • Vitamins B12 and B6
  • Thiamin
  • Niacin
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Selenium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

However, due to mercury, PCBs, dioxin, and other chemicals, the following people should not eat striped bass: children under 8 years old and potentially pregnant, pregnant, or nursing people. Everyone else should not eat it more than four times a year. How to Catch Monster Bass

6. Turbot

Turbot is a not a significantly cheaper option, because it can only be sourced in European waters. Additionally, if you find a particularly cheap turbot, there’s a chance it may actually be flounder or Greenland turbot (which isn’t actually turbot).

Nonetheless, it contains 16 grams of protein. It is also a good source of vitamins B12 and B6, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium.

Final Thoughts

While halibut is a noteworthy choice in regards to nutrition, there are plenty of viable options for people who enjoy fish but don’t want to break the bank.

Atlantic may be considered tastier by some but it is endangered. Halibut is expensive because wild halibut is unsustainable and requires shipping, and farmed halibut is labor and cost-intensive.

If you are going to eat halibut, farmed halibut is the best for sustainability.

Ultimately, unless you live locally enough to buy fresh halibut at a seafood market, you’re better off buying a more affordable alternative. Many others white-flesh fish can match halibut in regards to taste, texture, and nutrition at a much lower price.

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