Illustration of Halibut

Halibut

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Seafood Variety

Harvest Method

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Atlantic halibut

Hippoglossus hippoglossus

Method

Farmed

Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS)

Location

Worldwide

Overall Rating

7 / 10

Summary

Atlantic halibut is a popular and valuable seafood item, worth almost $22 million in Canada alone in 2010. Landings peaked in the 1950’s and 60’s, but have since been declining, and in 1996, the Atlantic halibut was placed on the IUCN Red list. Aquaculture started in the 1980’s in Norway, but it was not until 2005 that a viable producer of farmed Atlantic halibut emerged in Canada.

Atlantic halibut are grown at a net protein loss, as more protein in the form of fishmeal or fish oil must be fed in order to obtain a comparatively smaller amount of edible halibut. However, since the wild Atlantic halibut populations are depleted, aquaculture of the species alleviates pressure on wild stocks to supply consumer demand, and gives them more time to recover.

Since the Atlantic halibut are reared indoors, there is little risk of predator mortality. The source of fishmeal and fish oil that is fed to the Atlantic halibut is unknown. There is some concern that the source is from an unsustainable fishery, which would negatively impact other species. Risk of escape and spread of disease is extremely low, since the fish are farmed on land, and are not connected to other water bodies. There is also no stress imposed on wild stocks, as fish are sourced from domesticated and farmed broodstock.

There is minimal habitat and ecosystem impacts since the farms are not located on particularly sensitive habitat, chemicals are rarely used, and waste water is appropriately treated and disposed of.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Pacific halibut

Hippoglossus stenolepis

Method

Wild

Bottom longline, Handline

Location

BC, Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington

Overall Rating

N/A / 5

Summary

Pacific Halibut are consider a model of a sustainable fisheries. Good management practices, low-impact harvest methods and healthy populations are all contributing to their favourable assessment.

Pacific Halibut are slow growing, late maturing and long-lived (over 50 years). These characteristics make them inherently vulnerable to fishing pressure. Intense fishing pressures led to a decline in their population in the mid and late 80’s. Improved management of this species has resulted in population recovery from historic lows to their current status estimated to be at historically high levels.

Pacific halibut is a well-managed fishery, regulated primarily by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC). The IPHC has managed and set catch limits for 80 years. After a population drop in the 1980s, the commission began to track halibut population levels, bycatch, and total catch through a quota system. Introduced in 1991, the quota management works with industry to ensure sustainable catch limits. The overall fishery responded well to these measures and stocks are now healthier than they were a decade ago.

Concern over bycatch of rockfish and other groundfish species lead to strict reporting requirements and bycatch limits. This significantly reduced bycatch associated with this fishery. The removal of halibut from longlines by sperm whales and killer whales has been observed in Alaskan fisheries. This depredation may pose a threat to the whales, and also complicates stock management due to unknown removals. Habitat Damage is not a major concern with the methods used to harvest Pacific Halibut.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Eco-Certification:

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) - Canada Atlantic halibut

Variety

Atlantic halibut

Hippoglossus hippoglossus

Method

Wild

Bottom trawl, Gillnet, Longline

Location

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland including part of the Grand banks and Georges bank, NAFO areas 3NOPs, 4VWZ and 5Zc

Eco-Certification

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Canada Atlantic halibut

Summary

Ocean Wise recommends some Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries, but not all. Learn more about how the MSC certification was bench-marked to Ocean Wise.

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Variety

Atlantic halibut

Hippoglossus hippoglossus

Method

Wild

Bottom trawl

Location

US Atlantic - New England

Overall Rating

2.2 / 5

Summary

The commercial fishery for the Atlantic halibut has existed since colonial times, and by the 1850’s, consumer demand had fueled the exploitation of the population. By the late 1800’s, the population had been decimated, and has still not recovered. Currently, there is no directed fishery for Atlantic halibut, but it is still caught as bycatch.

Although management has at times been poor in the past, recent modifications to regulations have established stricter limits on catches. This new management regime is considered to be moderately effective. Management plans to minimize bycatch exist, although these could be improved upon for greater effectiveness. The Atlantic halibut has been severely overfished and population abundances are still at critically low levels.

The use of otter trawls has a significant impact on the bycatch of Atlantic white-sided dolphins; a species which is already overfished and whose low population numbers are of concern. Otter trawls have the potential to severely damage the habitat by increasing the turbidity in the water, smoothing the substrate, causing mortality or injuries to species, and by destroying the habitat. The effects of removing Atlantic halibut from the ecosystem are not well understood.

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