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Flatfish

Flathead Sole / Market Overview

Flathead Sole (Hippoglossoides elassodon)

Flathead sole are found on the Pacific Coast of North America from Monterey Bay in central California northward into the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council manages the flathead sole fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Alaska. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) area, the fishery is regulated under the BSAI Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP).

During the 1960s, Japanese and Soviet vessels began fishing for flathead sole in the BSAI area. By 1986, foreign fishing was prohibited in the Gulf of Alaska, but joint fishing accounted for a majority of the catch until the end of 1990, when all commercial fishing was limited to domestic ventures.

Also in 1990, the Gulf of Alaska Flatfish complex divided into categories, which included flathead sole, with separate fishery targets and annual limits set for each category. Four years later, a separate allowable catch was assigned to flathead sole in the BSAI area.

Prior to 2008, substantial amounts (upwards of 30%) of flathead sole were discarded overboard in various Eastern Bering Sea target fisheries. In comparison, only 10% of flathead sole caught in 2008 were discarded due to a new regulation requiring lower discard rates.

Annual catches of flathead sole in recent years have been well below the recommended catch. Currently, this species is not over-fished.

Data sourced from National Marine Fisheries Service (www.nmfs.noaa.gov)

Facts

Flathead sole are right-eyed flatfish (the left eye migrates over to the right side during development) with oval-shaped bodies. Their eyed side is dark olive brown to reddish gray-brown, their blind side has white and translucent areas, and their dorsal and anal fins have dusky blotches.

Nursery areas occur in shallow estuaries, bays, and near-shore coastal areas along the northern Pacific coast. Larvae and eggs float near or on the surface; after they metamorphose, they settle to the bottom.

Adult flathead sole migrate from winter spawning grounds along the outer shelf to shallower water feeding grounds in the spring. They live on mixed mud and sand bottoms and prey on crustaceans, mollusks, brittle stars, fish, and squid. Their diet varies with area and season.