Iceland bans halibut fishing outright amid stock level fears

Jón Bjarnason

All fishing for halibut around Iceland will be banned from 1st January amid ongoing stock decline.

Icelandic Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Jón Bjarnason, signed a new law in the spring that would see all deliberate angling for halibut banned from the New Year; but that new law has this week been strengthened to include halibut caught by accident.

Starting next week Icelandic fishermen will be required to avoid catching halibut and any caught as by-catch must be thrown back alive instead of being taken ashore and sold. When halibut cannot be returned to the sea alive, all proceeds from any which are brought to shore and sold will go directly to ocean research, RÚV reported. Halibut are often brought aboard ship as by-catch.

The halibut harvesting ban comes after years of quota cuts and will be welcome news for the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, which has been warning of the halibut’s continued decline for years.

The halibut is Iceland’s biggest bony fish and can reach up to five metres in length. They are bottom fish, but are found all over the ocean. Halibut reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years of age, and can live up to 50 years.

Research suggests that the halibut stock around Iceland has been getting smaller every year in recent times.

The implications of the new law will have little impact on commercial fishing companies, which primarily target other species anyway — but its impact could be severe for the Westfjords tourism sector; which relies heavily on sea angling trips. The Westfjords’ popularity is spurred by the chance of catching a record-breakingly huge halibut.