Greenland halibut

Greenland halibut

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Greenland halibut

Illustration: Jón Baldur Hlíðberg

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Greenland halibut fishing grounds in 2011 (t/nm2), all gear combined, dark areas indicate highest catches.

Source: The Marine Research Institute

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Greenland halibut catch (t) in Icelandic waters

Source: ICES, Statistics Iceland

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Greenland halibut catch (t) by month

Source: Statistics Iceland, weigh reports

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Greenland halibut catch (t) by fishing gear

Source: Statistics Iceland, weight reports

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Greenland halibut catch per unit effort (CPUE) of the Icelandic fishing fleet and survey index from the Icelandic autumn survey, verital lines show one standard deviation in the estimates

Source: The Marine Research Institute

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Greenland halibut catch (t) by type of processing

Source: Statistics Iceland, processing reports

5-greenland-halibut-(g)-greenland-halibut-exports-by-country-last-year-(statice)

Value of exported Greenland halibut products by main countries in 2011 (FOB million ISK)

Source: Statistics Iceland

Scientific: Reinhardtius hippoglossoides. English: Greenland halibut, Greenland turbot, black halibut. Icelandic: Grálúða, svarta spraka. For more languages see the Marine Animal Dictionary.

Biology and distribution

The Greenland halibut is currently the most valuable flatfish species in Icelandic waters, but it is a deep-water species, mainly found in the cold waters to the west, north and east of Iceland, a very different distribution from the other flatfish species. The Greenland halibut can be found in cold waters all around the Arctic, both on the Atlantic as well as on the Pacific side. Greenland halibut in East Greenlandic, Icelandic and Faroese waters are considered to be the same stock.

The Greenland halibut is a large flatfish and can reach up to 1.2 m in length. It has a dark grey colour on both sides, as opposed to other flatfish species that are dark on one side and white on the other. In fact the Greenland halibut is the least “flatfishy” of the Icelandic flatfishes. Not only is the colouration different but the location of the eyes are also different. All other flatfishes have both eyes on the same side but one eye of the Greenland halibut is located on the top of the fish. This suggests that the Greenland halibut is not as benthic in habits as other flatfishes. That is, it swims more in the water column. It can be found over a wide depth range in or from 200 to 2,000 m depth, but usually below 400 m. Most of the fisheries are conducted at about 500 m depth on the edge of the continental slope north and east of Iceland. It spawns in deep waters in the middle of the Denmark Strait where considerable catches are also taken. It reaches sexual maturity art the age of 9 to 12 years.

As can be seen from the large mouth and sharp teeth, the Greenland halibut is a predatory fish. Its main food is capelin but eelpouts (Lycodes spp), Northern shrimp and Northern ambereye shrimp (Hymenodora glacialis) are also common prey.

Catch and fishing methods

The Greenland halibut fishery is rather recent compared to other major groundfish fisheries. It was initiated by German fleets in the 1950s but was then taken over by the Icelandic fleet in the late 1970s. Catches reached their highest level in 1988, almost 60,000 t, but have declined sharply since then. However, this stock is shared with Greenland and Faroe Islands and at the same time as Icelandic quotas have been reduced, these other nations have increased their catches. Greenland halibut is primarily caught with deep-water trawl, a small amount has also been fished with deep sea longlines or gillnets.

Stock status

See the Marine Research institute

Processing and markets

Currently the Greenland halibut is mostly frozen at sea on large freezer trawlers. The main markets for the Greenland halibut are in the Far East, only a small amount is exported to western Europe. More than half of the total catch goes to Japan but a large share also goes to mainland China and Hong Kong. The Greenland halibut is popular raw in sushi and sashimi but also a good fish to smoke or marinate, since it absorbs the ingredients of the marinade. It is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

References and further information

  • Boje, J. (2002). Intermingling and seasonal migrations of Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) populations determined from tagging studies. Fishery Bulletin 100 (3), 414-422.
  • Jónsson, G., & Pálsson, J. (2006). Íslenskir fiskar (Icelandic fishes). Reykjavík, Iceland. 336 p (in Icelandic)
  • Sólmundsson, J. (2007). Trophic ecology of Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) on the Icelandic continental shelf and slope. Marine Biology Research 3 (4), 231-242

Hreiðar Þór Valtýsson, University of Akureyri