Halibut, Atlantic (Caught at sea)

Hippoglossus hippoglossus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — All Areas
Stock detail — 1 to 14
Picture of Halibut, Atlantic (Caught at sea)

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020.

North East Atlantic Halibut is a data-limited species and its stock status is unknown. IUCN categorises Atlantic halibut as Vulnerable in Europe (last assessed in 2013) and Endangered globally (last assessed in 1996). The stock in this area is not assessed by ICES and is not sufficiently researched at the local or national level. Atlantic halibut have a very low resilience to fishing pressure and it is likely that they are overfished in European waters. There are no harvest control rules, rebuilding plan, long-term management plan, quotas or minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) in place for halibut. Demersal otter trawling can sometimes catch Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species. This rating does not include fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic where some well-managed Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries are in place.


Atlantic halibut, the largest of all flat fishes, is a thick-set, right-eyed (both eyes on the right-hand side of the body) flat fish in the family Pleuronectidae. It is distributed throughout the north Atlantic, particularly Norway, Faroes, Iceland and southern Greenland, but occurs as far south as Maine in north America and the Bay of Biscay in Europe. It can attain a length of 4.7m and more than 300kg, but it is considered slow growing in the wild. Spawning occurs during winter and early spring. Atlantic halibut become sexually mature at 10-14 years, at around 1.4m in length. The oldest recorded halibut has been 55 years of age yet models indicate that they could live for nearly 100 years! It has been a heavily targeted fishery for more than 100 years and with slow growth rates, high age at maturity and a population doubling time of around 14 years, is highly susceptible to overfishing. IUCN list Atlantic halibut as Endangered (1996) and the species appears on the US National Marine Fisheries Service list of species of concern. Additionally the Project Inshore Phase II Report (2013) noted that under the MSC Risk Based Framework, the species was ranked as the 6th most susceptible species, behind some sharks and rays.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

North East Atlantic Halibut is a data-limited species and its stock status is unknown. IUCN categorises Atlantic halibut as Vulnerable in Europe (last assessed in 2013) and Endangered globally (last assessed in 1996). Atlantic halibut have a very low resilience to fishing pressure and it is likely that they are overfished in European waters.

ICES reported that the biomass survey index for Atlantic halibut decreased between 1985 and 1995 and has since remained at low levels, with a small increase observed in 2015 and 2016. However, Northeast Atlantic halibut stocks are not currently assessed by ICES nor, are they sufficiently researched at the local or national level.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

Halibut may be overfished and the stock status is unknown, however, there is no rebuilding plan or long-term management plan for the species. There are no quotas, but a there is a minimum landing size and some bans for fishing halibut in Iceland. In EU waters, there are effort restrictions (such as days at sea), size of catch, gear restrictions, real-time closures, MCZs and inshore habitat management. Vessels over 15m in length are required to use Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS). However, measures to manage the species in this area are considered to be insufficient and inconsistent..

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

In this area, Atlantic halibut is primarily landed by trawlers when targeting other demersal species, but also captured in demersal long line and net fisheries.

Demersal otter trawls have the potential to take relatively high quantities of bycatch (> 40% of catch weight). There are also reported catches of endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species (e.g. sharks and rays). Otter trawls can disturb seabed habitats and in the North Sea, they have reduced the biomass and production of bottom-dwelling organisms. Sustained fishing has resulted in a shift from communities dominated by relatively sessile, emergent and high biomass species to communities dominated by infaunal, smaller bodied and faster growing organisms.


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.

Halibut, Atlantic (Farmed)
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
Turbot (Farmed)


Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2019. Hippoglossus hippoglossus, Atlantic halibut. Available at https://www.fishbase.de/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?ID=1371&AT=atlantic+halibut [Accessed on 15.09.2020].

Havforsknings Instituttet. 2019. Theme: Atlantic halibut. Available at https://www.hi.no/hi/temasider/arter/atlantisk-kveite [Accessed on 15.09.2020].

ICES. 2019. Icelandic Waters ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/EcosystemOverview_IcelandicWaters_2019.pdf [Accessed on 15.09.2020].

Seitz, A.C., Michalsen, K., Nielsen, J.L., Evans, M.D. 2014. Evidence of fjord spawning by southern Norwegian Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus), ICES Journal of Marine Science, 71, 5, 1142-1147.

Sobel, J. 1996. Hippoglossus hippoglossus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1996: e.T10097A3162182. Available at https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.1996.RLTS.T10097A3162182.en. [Accessed on 15.09.2020].

Trzcinski, M. K. and Bowen, W. D. 2016. The recovery of Atlantic halibut: a large, long-lived, and exploited marine predator. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 73(4), 1104-1114.