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A highly sought after food fish, the Atlantic halibut is the largest flatfish in the world. Flatfish exhibit a unique and distinctive anatomy that is adapted to their life on the sea bed; namely, they are flattened sideways and habitually lie on one side of their body, instead of being flattened from top to bottom like many others of the sea bed. As a result, both eyes tend to migrate to one side of the head during development. The Atlantic halibut lies on its left side and has both eyes positioned on its right, facing upwards. The fish is greenish-brown to dark brown or black on its upper surface and a dirty white on its lower surface. Young fish are paler with more mottled colouration.
Found in the cold waters of North Atlantic coasts, ranging in the Eastern Atlantic from the Bay of Biscay to Spitsbergen, Barents Sea, Iceland and eastern Greenland, and in the Western Atlantic from south-western Greenland and Labrador in Canada to Virginia in the USA.
There is currently no management plan in place for this fish and it is therefore thought probable that numbers of Atlantic halibut will continue to decline. It has been argued that Atlantic halibut are unlikely to recover simply by banning halibut landings or designating protected areas. Rather, the recovery and survival of this Endangered flatfish species will depend on reducing its bycatch in other highly exploited fisheries.
Endangered (EN) (A1d)
The Atlantic halibut has suffered massive declines throughout its range over the last two centuries, including virtual elimination in many areas as a result of over-fishing. Their slow growth rate and late onset of sexual maturity make these fish extremely vulnerable to the effects of over-fishing. Not only does this mean that individuals are often harvested many years before reaching maturity, and therefore unable to increase abundance through reproduction, but also that populations will be slow to recover from collapses in numbers. Since population numbers are now too low to sustain target fisheries, Atlantic halibut are predominantly taken as bycatch by bottom trawlers and longliners. Surveys indicate that these fish have continued to decline in the North Atlantic over the past two decades, despite being taken only incidentally as bycatch, with little targeted halibut fishing.
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