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World first as Greenland halibut fishery gains MSC certification

The West Greenland offshore Greenland halibut fishery has achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as a sustainable and well-managed fishery. This is the first MSC certified Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) fishery in the world and represents half of the total allowable catch (TAC) of the stock.

Sustainable Fisheries Greenland (SFG) entered the fishery into MSC assessment in March 2016 and the fish can now be sold globally carrying the blue MSC label.

A sustainable Arctic species

This fishery operates in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait off West Greenland and has been in operation since the mid-1960s. Fishing in the area is managed by the Government of Greenland, Ministry of Fisheries and Hunting, who set the annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC).

Enforcement by the Greenland Fishery License Control Authority (GFLK) subjects the fishery to logbook obligations and an observer scheme. Mesh size for nets has a regulated minimum of 100 mm in the underwing and 140 mm in the rest of the trawl, which avoids bycatch, and discards are banned.

This cold-water fish can be found all around the Arctic in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and generally lives at a temperature of 1-4 degrees Celsius. It is a large flatfish that can grow up to 1.2 metres in length and is dark on both sides, unlike other flatfish species that are white underneath and dark on top.

Commercial value

Greenland halibut is the most valuable flatfish species in Greenlandic waters with most of the catch being exported to China and Japan for fillets, sushi and sashimi. In Europe, the biggest markets are Germany and Spain.

Gisli Gislason, MSC Senior Program Manager, Iceland, Faroe and Greenland, said: “The Greenlandic fishery client, SFG has made tremendous effort in getting key fisheries certified against the MSC standard. That applies for both their prawn, lumpfish and now the Greenland halibut fishery. By getting this certified as sustainable and well managed against the MSC Standard we hope it will be well received in the global markets, both in Europe and Asia.”

Lisbeth Due Shoeneman-Paul, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Royal Greenland and chair of Sustainable Fisheries Greenland, said: "Greenland halibut is an important fishery for the Greenlandic economy.  We have received more numbers of queries from our customers about the sustainability certification on our Greenland halibut fishery.  We hope and believe this MSC certification will be well received by our overseas customers both in Europe and especially in Asia.

About the certification

This certification took 14 months and was carried out by auditor DNV GL using MSC’s updated Fisheries Standard v2.0. The assessment covers four trawlers. The MSC’s science-based Fisheries Standard is the world’s most credible and recognized standard for environmentally sustainable wild-caught seafood.