Halibut, Greenland

Reinhardtius hippoglossoides

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — North West Atlantic (FAO 21)
Stock area — West Greenland
Stock detail — 1A: Upernavik, Uummannaq, Disco Bay (Inshore fishery)
Picture of Halibut, Greenland

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated November 2019.

Greenland halibut is a long-lived, low productivity species with low resilience to fishing pressure. While there are no reference points by which to assess the size of the stock or level of fishing pressure in this area, numerous indicators suggest that stocks are declining and fishing pressure is too high. No management plan or objectives are in place, and scientific advice is not being followed, as quotas are being set higher than the recommended limits. Greenland halibut in this area is targeted mainly by longlines, which is a relatively selective gear. All Greenlandic and foreign vessels operating in Greenland waters must record and report all catches, including birds and mammals, even if the vessels are below 6m.

Biology

This is an Arctic species which feeds in mid-water. Unlike most other flatfish, its ‘blind side’ is dark grey rather than white. Greenland halibut spawns in summer (April to June). It is a relatively slow-growing and long-lived species. Males become sexually mature when 7-8 years old and 55-65 cm long and females when 9-11 years old and 65-80 cm. They move into deeper water as they grow and can reach lengths of 120cm. Maximum reported age 30 years.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Greenland halibut is a long-lived, low productivity species with low resilience to fishing pressure. While there are no reference points by which to assess the size of the stock or level of fishing pressure in this area, numerous indicators suggest that stocks are declining and fishing pressure is too high.

Greenland halibut in the West of Greenland is divided into an offshore component (NAFO areas 0 and 1), which is a shared stock between Greenland and Canada, and an inshore component. The inshore component consists of three areas: Disko Bay, Upernavik and Ummannaq, and there is little migration between the three areas. Recruits into each area come from offshore stocks. Scientific advice is provided by the North Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NAFO). The stock was last assessed in 2018, with advice given for 2019 and 2020. The next assessment is planned for 2020.

In Disko Bay: There are no reference points to assess biomass or fishing pressure. Biomass has decreased since 2005, with recent years showing the lowest biomass since 2003. Catches per unit of effort are at their lowest since 2009 for longlining, and below average for gillnet. The average length of fish landed is also decreasing. The Scientific Council advised that the Total Allowable Catch should not exceed 5,120 tons in each of the years 2019 and 2020. This would be a significant reduction from the 2017 and 2018 TACs, which were 9,200 tons. In general, recent catches have been close to or below TACs.

In Upernavik: All available indicators have declined under current levels of removals. Average length of fish in the landings has declined from 75cm in 1992 to 56cm in 2018. Catch per unit of effort for longlining is at its lowest observed level. The Scientific Council advised that the Total Allowable Catch should not exceed 5,330 tons in each of the years 2019 and 2020. This is a reduction from previous advice owing to the reduction in mean individual size. Catches have steadily increased since 1987 to peak at 7,000t in 1998, and recent average catch has been 6,800t. TACs have been set at 9,500t since 2014.

In Ummannaq: All available indicators have declined under current levels of removals. Average length of fish in the landings has declined from around 70cm in 1992 to around 58cm in 2018. Catch per unit of effort for longlining is at its lowest observed level. The Scientific Council advised that the Total Allowable Catch should not exceed 5,800 tons in each of the years 2019 and 2020. This is a reduction from previous advice owing to the reduction in mean individual size. Catches reached a record high in 2016, at 10,000 tons. TACs in 2017 and 2018 were set at 9,000 tons. Catches exceeded TACs in 5 of the past 10 years.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

No management plan or objectives are in place for this stock, which is declining and subject to overfishing. Management is not following scientific advice, as quotas are being set higher than the recommended limits.

Halibut in West Greenland is one stock and is shared between Greenland and Canada. For management purposes in Greenland it is divided into an offshore (Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, East Greenland) and inshore component (Upernavik, Uummannaq, Disco Bay). An individual quota is applied to each of the areas within the fishery. In general, catches have been in line with quotas, but recent scientific advice is that stocks are declining in all areas and catches need to be reduced. Quotas have consistently been set at least 50% higher than the scientific advice (e.g. combined advice for the three areas in 2018 was 19,200 tons, and the combined TACs were 28,200 tons).

Fisheries are regulated through a system of licences that limits the target species, the area, the time of the year used for fishing and/or the amount of fish to be caught. There is a Minimum Landing Size of 42 cm. There is a general ban on discarding, and all Greenlandic and foreign vessels operating in Greenland waters must record and report all catches, including birds and mammals, even if the vessels are below 6m. Large vessels are monitored through VMS, and an observer scheme aims for a minimum coverage of 50 % of fishing trips in key fisheries and fisheries where there is a risk that one or more rules are not respected. It is forbidden to fish offshore with gillnets, to reduce the risk of lost fishing gear and subsequent ghost fishing. Trawling is almost entirely banned inshore, so catches here are by gillnet and longline.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Greenland halibut in this area is targeted with longlines and gillnets. Both gears select adult fish with large body size and do not retain recruits or small sized fish. The majority of catches are by longline, a relatively selective gear which uses a long line of baited hooks lowered into the water and left for up to 12 hours. In winter, fishing is from holes in sea ice and in summer from boats. Measures are used to ensure that the line moves away from the hole in the ice (in winter) and is kept close to the seabed, where the halibut reside. In the inshore fishery, redfish and wolffish are taken as bycatch.

All Greenlandic and foreign vessels operating in Greenland waters must record and report all catches, including birds and mammals, even if the vessels are below 6m. Large vessels are monitored through VMS, and an observer scheme aims for a minimum coverage of 50% of fishing trips in key fisheries and fisheries where there is a risk that one or more rules are not respected.

Ghost fishing by lost gillnets has been observed but its effects are unknown.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Dab
Halibut, Atlantic (Farmed)
Megrim
Plaice
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
Turbot (Farmed)

References

Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Reinhardtius hippoglossoides, Greenland halibut. Available at: https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Reinhardtius-hippoglossoides.html [Accessed on 27.08.2019].

Government of Greenland, 2017. Review of existing knowledge on marine mammal by-catch in Greenland. Report SC/24/BYC/14, The Government of Greenland Ministry of Fisheries & Hunting, May 2017. Available at https://nammco.no/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/fi-01-review-of-existing-knowledge-on-marine-mammal-by-catch-in-greenland-2017-draft.pdf [Accessed on 26.11.2019].

Gronlands Naturinstitut, 2018. Sammendrag af den biologiske radgivning for 2019 om fiskebestande. 26 juni 2018. Available at http://www.natur.gl/fileadmin/user_files/Dokumenter/Raadgivning/Fisk/Sammendrag__DK__fisker%C3%A5dgivning_for_2019_NAFO.pdf [Accessed on 26.11.2019].

NAFO, 2018. Report of the Scientific Council Meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, 1 -14 June 2018, Halifax, Nova Scotia. NAFO SCS Doc. 18-19, Serial No. N6849. Available at https://www.nafo.int/Portals/0/PDFs/sc/2018/scs18-19.pdf [Accessed on 26.11.2019].