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Beaked redfish in the Irminger Sea

HI 031956

Pelagic beaked redfish in the Irminger Sea kan grow to 50 cm length and 1.3 kg in weight.

Photo: Institute of Marine Research

These beaked redfish (Sebastes mentella) are a separate, oceanic and pelagic stock, probably a complex of two stocks between 100 and 900 m depth, over bottom depths of 1500–3000 m. These fish are slow-growing and late maturing and therefore highly sensitive to overexploitation.

In recent years, several surveys indicated that the stock of beaked redfish in the Irminger Sea is now only about one fifth of what it was ten years ago, with numbers stagnating at a low level in the most recent years.

The official catch statistics show a corresponding quick and negative development, with decreasing catch and catch rates. Neither the shallow pelagic (< 500 m) nor the deep pelagic (> 500 m) stock component have a full quantitative assessment, thus introducing additional uncertainty.

Survey results, decline of commercial catch rates and the rapid decline of catches point to a quicker decline in the stock then previously assumed. This can lead to this fishery, as we knew it over the last 20 years, being sharply reduced over a short period. Further factors increasing the risk of overexploitation are the difficulty of managing stock components separated by depth and disagreement over total quotas.

It is primarily mature fish that are found in the pelagic zone of the Irminger Sea, whilst nursery areas are found on the Greenlandic shelf.

Status advice and fisheries

Based on genetics, fatty acids and parasites, ICES determined that there are two stocks of pelagic beaked redfish in the Irminger Sea southeast of Greenland. One stock living primarily deeper than 500 m, and a shallow pelagic stock, called oceanic beaked redfish, living shallower than 500 m.

As it is difficult to separately manage two stocks that are only distinguished by depth, ICES suggested a management area for the deep pelagic stock in the Northeast where these fish are most concentrated in fishable aggregations, whilst beaked redfish outside and especially southwest of this area are primarily oceanic redfish. Furthermore, it is unclear whether there is a separate stock on the East-Greenlandic shelf or whether and to what degree beaked redfish on the Greenlandic shelf are connected to the pelagic stocks or the stock on the Icelandic shelf. However, the nurseries of the pelagic beaked redfish in the Irminger Sea are clearly on the East-Greenlandic shelf.

Over recent years, results of several surveys have shown that the number of pelagic beaked redfish in the Irminger Sea has strongly declined. The shallow oceanic redfish is now at its lowest, 91 000 tonnes in 2013, the last year with full survey coverage. This is less than 5% of what it was at the beginning of the 1990s. The deep pelagic stock is more difficult to assess with acoustics and one must therefore rely on the catch rates in trawls. Available catch rates since 1999 indicate a reduction in this stock too, with the lowest point at 280 000 tonnes in 2013. The survey in 2015 indicated even less, but did not cover the full area.

ICES advised that there should be no directed fishery on either pelagic stock and that there is a need for an international management plan. The North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) decided during the 2018 meeting that there should be no directed fishery on the shallow pelagic stock and that the catch of the deep pelagic stock should be limited to no more than 6 500 tonnes.


Norwegian trawlers have been fishing on beaked redfish in international waters south-west of Iceland since 1990. Up to 19 countries participated in the international fishery and the catch peaked in 1996 at 180 000 tonnes for both stocks combined, with Norwegian catches at 14 990 tonnes in 1993.