Ecosystem overviews

Greeland Sea Ecosystem Overview

Pressure: Selective extraction of species (including non-target catch)

​​​​​​​​A multinational fishery currently operates in the ecoregion, using various fishing gears and targeting several species. Demersal fishing by Greenland and multinational fleets takes place mainly in the southern subregion. Most of this fishery is bottom trawling and only a minor part is longlining. The number of fishing vessels has declined over the past many decades, while the sizes of the vessels are increasing. 

The demersal fishery mainly operates on the slope at depths between 400 m and 100 m, and target species are northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis), golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus) and beaked redfish (Sebastes mentella), cod (Gadus morhua), and Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) (Figure 6). Pelagic fisheries targeting mackerel, herring, and capelin are performed using mid-waters trawl or purse seining and are widespread in a north–south direction across the ecoregion. Mackerel is fished mainly in the southern subregion while herring and capelin are fished further north (Figure 4).

The total annual catch in the ecoregion has varied between 67 000 tonnes to 203 000 tonnes in the last ten years, taken from the stocks of Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel, Norwegian spring-spawning herring, cod, Greenland halibut, redfish (Sebastes spp.), northern shrimp, and capelin. The majority of these catches are pelagic species (68%). Fishing pressure for Greenland halibut and golden redfish has gradually decreased to a sustainable level around FMSY (Figure 5). After a period around the 2000s with virtually no cod in the ecoregion, the stock was slowly rebuilt and in recent years the fishing pressure has increased to about FMSY. Northern shrimp is of little commercial importance and catches are very low.

NEA mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian herring are mainly distributed in the Northeast Atlantic along the European continental shelf. Parts of these stocks migrate seasonally to the Greenland Sea ecoregion for feeding. Fishing pressure on these stocks has decreased in the last decade; however, for mackerel the harvest is still above sustainable levels (Figure 5).

Since the 1990s sorting grids have been mandatory in the shrimp fishery to avoid bycatch of juvenile fish and shrimp as well as bycatch of larger fish, sharks, and cetaceans. Areas closed to trawling have been in place to protect spawning concentrations of cod in order to rebuild the stock.

Sailray (Rajella lintea), common skate (Dipturus batis), leafscale gulper shark (Centrophorus squamosus), Portuguese dogfish (Centroscymnus coelolepis), and starry ray (Amblyraja radiate) have been bycaught in bottom-trawl fisheries in the ecoregion.

​International commercial hunting of marine mammals before the 1960s had an extensive influence on populations, leading to drastic reductions in abundances. Based on current data, the hunting of seabirds and mammals is for local consumption and only occurs near the few settlements in East Greenland in the southern subregion. A small Norwegian commercial hunting for harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) is still ongoing in the pack ice breeding areas off East Greenland (Greenland Sea and Norwegian Sea ecoregions). The area north of Scoresby Sound is a national park where hunting is prohibited.

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​Figure 4: Fishing footprint of pelagic fisheries in 2017–2019 for capelin (CAP), mackerel (MAC), and herring (HER) within the Greenland Sea ecoregion.​

Figure 5: Time-series of relative fishing mortality (F to FMSY ratio) for the main demersal fish species: cod (cod.2127.1f14), Greenland halibut (ghl.27.561214), golden redfish (reg.27.561214) and for the main pelagic fish species: NEA mackerel ( and Atlanto-Scandian herring (her.27.1-24a514a). Table A1 in the Annex details Stocks with analytical assessments and guilds in the Greenland Sea ecoregion.
Figure 6: Bottom-trawling effort distribution in the last decade (2009–2019) for four demersal species. Upper panels: cod and Greenland halibut (GHL). Lower panels: redfish spp. (RED) and northern shrimp (PRA). The Greenland and Iceland EEZ borders are shown.
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Greeland Sea Ecosystem Overview

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