Greenland Halibut/Turbot | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Greenland Halibut/Turbot

Reinhardtius hippoglossoides

Also known as

Newfoundland turbot, flatty, turbot, blue halibut, black halibut

Distribution

Circumpolar. In the northeast Pacific from Alaska to Mexico, and in the northwest Atlantic

Écosystèmes/habitats

Soft bottoms in arctic and temperate waters

Feeding Habits

Active predator

Conservation Status

Not listed

Taxonomie

Order Pleuronectiformes (flatfishes); Family Pleuronectidae (right-eye flounders)

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Greenland halibut are a large flatfish that have both eyes on the right side of their head. Their close relatives, the Atlantic halibut and Pacific halibut, use this design to swim flat against the ocean floor, as do Greenland halibut. However, Greenland halibut are also known to swim vertically, thanks to their eyes being closer to the front of their head than their relatives, allowing them to look forward while swimming upright. Greenland halibut use this ability to swim vertically to help them migrate and forage for food. 

Greenland halibut are diamond-shaped flatfish. They are fairly uniform in colour, ranging from yellowish to greyish-brown, with a paler grey underbelly. They are closely related to Atlantic and Pacific halibut, but can be distinguished from Atlantic halibut by their straight lateral line (the Atlantic halibut has a more arched lateral line) and their smaller size. They can grow up to about one metre in length and weigh more than 10 kilograms.

Greenland halibut spawn in the winter months, congregating in large groups in deep waters to exhibit “batch spawning,” a process where multiple males and females release eggs and sperm simultaneously into the water column to fertilize as many eggs as possible at one time. The eggs and newly hatched larvae drift along in the upper layers of the water column. Once they reach their adult form, the young fish will settle in shallower waters. Greenland halibut feed on crustaceans, capelin, redfish and other smaller fish. They are also typically found in higher concentrations in areas with large shrimp populations. Greenland halibut populations in the Pacific and Arctic grow faster but live shorter lives than those found in the Atlantic.

Greenland halibut have been harvested traditionally in Northeastern Canada and Greenland by Indigenous Peoples for centuries, and commercially since the mid-1800s. Initially fished using traditional baited hook-and-line methods, today they are mostly caught by gillnets. The Gulf of St. Lawrence Greenland halibut fishery started as a bycatch fishery by fishermen who were targeting shrimp. Any Greenland halibut caught incidentally as bycatch in the shrimp fishery were retained and eaten or sold, eventually leading to a viable market for this species and the development of a targeted gillnet fishery in 1979. Greenland halibut are targeted in Alaska, but in British Columbia they are only part of the mixed groundfish fishery and are not considered a main species. 

Greenland halibut in Canadian waters have not yet been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).  Under the Precautionary Approach Framework by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Greenland halibut population in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been assessed as Healthy. The populations found along the northeast coast of Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador, which are assessed and managed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), have been assessed as Unknown.

Oceana Canada is working to protect Canada’s oceans for species like the Greenland halibut. Find out more about our campaigns and join us in helping to bring abundance back to the ocean.