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FlatfishFinfish Species

Flatfish

Flatfishes are unique in that the skull is asymmetrical with both eyes on the same side of the head. Flatfish begin life like symmetrical fish, with an eye on each side of the head. A few days after hatching, one eye begins to migrate and soon both eyes are close together on one side. Flatfish spend the rest of their lives on or near the bottom with the eyed side facing up. The blind side is usually a paler color than the eyed side. If the right eye migrates to the left side, the flatfish is left-eyed (sinistral). If the left eye migrates to the right side, the fish is right-eyed (dextral).

To identify a flatfish, there are several physical characteristics that are often used. Among these are the shape of the arch in the lateral line, and the presence or absence of an accessory dorsal branch to the lateral line and anal spine (see figure below). Other common characteristics used in flatfish species identification are size of mouth, teeth, body shape and ridge between the eyes.

Flatfish are in the order Pleuronectiformes. Worldwide there are more than 500 species of flatfishes, in 6 or 7 families. Flatfishes include flounders, soles, turbots, halibuts, sanddabs, plaices, and tonguefishes. Flatfishes found in North American waters are in two broad categories-one includes the families Bothidae and Pleuronectidae, and the other includes the families Cynoglossidae and Soleidae.

These web pages present colored pictures (courtesy of Bill Barss, ODFW) and a description of each species. Fish descriptions include anatomical features which aid in species identification. Size, range, habitat, known depths and other common names are also included. Much of the text is taken from the Alaska Sea Grant College Program Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47, Guide to Northeast Pacific Flatfishes, by Donald E. Kramer, William H. Barss, B.C. Paust and B.E. Bracken, 1995 edition.

The colored pictures were taken at sea or on freshly landed fish. Special thanks is given to the commercial fishermen and processors for their help in making the fish available for photographing.

Arrowtooth Flounder Atheresthes stomias

Arrowtooth Flounder

Arrowtooth Flounder

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side uniform dark grayish brown to olive brown. Blind side dirty white to light gray. Scales darker at edges. Body shape elongate diamond. Caudal fin crescent-shaped. Lateral line nearly straight with slight curve over pectoral fin; accessory dorsal branch absent. Mouth very large with two rows of large, sharp arrow-shaped teeth. Maxillary extends beyond posterior margin of lower eye. No fang-like tooth on vomer (bone inroof of mouth). Left eye on dorsal ridge (visible from blind side). 2 gill rakers on the second upper arch. Anal spine absent. Preopercle C-shaped (not angular). Anterior nostril on blind side has small flap. Dorsal fin origin at middle of eye.

Size

To 86 cm(34 inches) and up to 17 pounds.
Often large, and females are bigger than males.

Range/Habitat

Eastern Bering Sea to San Pedro, southern California.

Depth

Soft bottoms from 10 to 400 fm. Most common at 150 to 220 fm.

Remarks

Common in waters of Alaska through Oregon. Taken primarily in trawls. Not of high commercial value due to poor flesh quality. Used traditionally as animal feed, but human consumption increasing.

Other common names

turbot , longjaw flounder, French sole

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Butter Sole Pleuronectes isolepis

Butter SoleButter Sole

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side light to dark brown or grayish brown with yellow or green mottling. Blind side white. Dorsal and anal fins edged with bright lemon yellow. Body shape oval. Caudal fin rounded to broad V-shape. Lateral line has low arch over pectoral fin; long accessory dorsal branch extends past gill cover. Mouth small. Teeth blunt, strongest on blind side. Maxillary extends below anterior part of eye. Eyes small. Space between eyes flat, narrow. Anal spine strong. Scales on eyed side rough, extend onto fin rays.

Size

To 55 cm (22 inches).

Range/Habitat

Bering Sea to southern California.

Depth

0 - 232 fm.

Remarks

Similar to rock sole, which has higher arch in lateral line and shorter accessory dorsal branch.

Other common names

Bellingham sole, scalyfin sole, Skidegate sole

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW.
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47.

Curlfin Sole Pleuronichthys decurrens

Curfin Sole

Curlfin Sole

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side reddish brown to dark brown or black, usually with brown or grey mottling. Fins dark; dorsal and anal fins broad. Blind side white. Body deep oval shape. Caudal fin rounded. Lateral line has slight curve over pectoral fin; long accessory dorsal branch reaches to midpoint of body. Mouth small. Maxillary extends to below anterior part of lower eye. Eyes large, closely set. High, bony ridge between eyes with tubercle or blunt spine at each end. Has 2 or 3 bony tubercles on head behind upper eye. Anal spine present. First 9 to 12 dorsal fin rays are on blind side. Origin or dorsal fin level with lower corner of mouth.

Size

To 37 cm (15 inches).

Range/Habitat

Bering Sea to San Quintin Bay, Baja California.

Depth

Soft bottoms from 4 to 291 fm. Usually shallow.

Remarks

Edibility very good. Similar to spotted and hornyhead turbots, which have 4 to 6 dorsal fin rays inserted on blind side.

Other common names

California turbot, curlfin turbot

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Dover Sole Microstomus pacificus

Dover Sole

Dover Sole

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side brown or grayish brown; may be mottled with darker spots. Fins blackish toward edges. Blind side smudgy off-white to dark brownish gray. Body elongate with very small scales. Caudal fin rounded. Lateral line nearly straight; accessory dorsal branch absent. Mouth very small. Maxillary extends to below anterior of lower eye. Teeth mostly on blind side; teeth flat and incisor-like. Eyes large and bulging, with upper eye posterior to lower eye. Space between eyes convex. Anal spine absent. Soft, flabby body is slippery, because of large amounts of slime.

Size

To 76 cm (30 inches) and up to 10 pounds. Average size in trawl catch is about 1 pound.

Range/Habitat

Bering Sea and eastern Aleutian Islands to San Cristobal Bay, Baja California.

Depth

On mud or sand bottoms from 5 to 750 fm. Commercial catches are from 40 to 550 fm.

Remarks

Common and widely distributed. Important commercially; marketed as fillets. Good flavor and good keeping qualities. Poor flesh quality often found for fish caught below 300 fm.

Other common names

slime sole, shortfinned sole, slippery sole

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

English Sole Sebastes melanostomus

English SoleEnglish Sole

 

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side usually uniform brown to olive brown but may have white speckles. Dorsal and ventral fin edges dark. Blind side white to pale yellow tinged with reddish brown. Body elongate, diamond shaped. Small head is slender and pointed. Caudal fin nearly square with slight point at center. Lateral line nearly straight with slight curve; long accessory dorsal branch. Mouth small and asymmetric. Jaws stronger on blind side. Maxillary extends to anterior edge of lower eye. High, narrow ridge between eyes. Anal spine strong. Scales smooth at anterior part of body and rough at posterior.

Size

To 61 cm (24 inches). Average size in commerical catch (mostly females) is about 14 inches and 3/4 pound.

Range/Habitat

Bering sea and Aleutian Islands to San Cristobal Bay, Baja California.

Depth

On sand bottom from 0 to 300 fm. Young are intertidal. Commercial quantities caught at 15 to 80 fm.

Remarks

Important commercial species caught by trawl. Good flavor. May have iodine flavor that is acceptable and even desirable in some markets.

Other common names

lemon sole, California sole, pointed nose sole

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Flathead Sole Hippoglossoides elassodon

Flathead Sole Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side dark olive brown to reddish gray-brown, sometimes with dusky blotches. Blind side with white and translucent areas; dorsal and anal fins have dusky blotches. Pores under eye. Lateral line with little arch and no dorsal branch. Upper jaw is narrow in the middle and has 1 row of teeth.

Size

To 56 cm (22 inches).

Range/Habitat

Alaska to Monterey, California.

Depth

Silty or muddy bottoms from 0 to 575 fm. (common 55 to 135 fm).

Remarks

Good food fish. Becoming more important in commercial fishery.

Other common names

cigarette paper, paper sole

Credits

Picture: ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Pacific Halibut Hippoglossus stenolepis

Pacific Halibut

Pacific Halibut

Description

Almost always right-eyed. Eyed side greenish brown to dark brown or black with lighter blotches. Blind side white to milky white. Body large and stout with elongate diamond shape. Caudal fin has crescent shape often indented near edges (double truncate). Lateral line has high arch over pectoral fin, accessory dorsal branch absent. Mouth large with two rows of teeth on upper jaw and one row on lower jaw. Maxillary reaches to below middle of lower eye. Area between eyes flat to slightly concave. Anal spine present. Scales small and smooth on both sides of body.

Size

To 267 cm (105 inches) and 500 pounds. There are unverified reports of fish over 9 feet and 700 pounds. Average size in commercial catch is 30 to 40 pounds.

Range/Habitat

Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk north to Gulf of Anadyr. Bering Sea south to Point Camalu, northern Baja California.

Depth

Found from 3 to 600 fm. Mostly in 15 to 150 fm in summer, but deeper in winter.

Remarks

Abundant off Alaska. Largest most valuable flatfish in the northeast Pacific; important as commercial and sport fish. Similar to California halibut, which is often left-eyed, has larger mouth and less indented tail.

Other common names

halibut, northern halibut, right halibut

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Pacific Sanddab Citharichthys sordidus

Pacific SandabPacific Sanddab

 

Description

Left-eyed. Eyed side dull light brown, mottled with brown or black and sometimes yellow or orange. Blind side off-white to tan. Body oval, with large scales. Caudal fin only slightly rounded. Lateral line nearly straight; accessory dorsal branch absent. Mouth medium sized with maxillary extending below anterior part of lower eye. Eyes large. Anals spine absent. Gill rakers on lower limb of first arch are 12 to 16. Scale count in lateral line is 61 to 70.

Size

To 41 cm (16 inches). To 2 pounds; most weigh less than 1/3 pound.

Range/Habitat

Sea of Japan, Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea, and south to Cape San Lucas, Baja California.

Depth

Sand or mud-sand bottom in 5 to 167 fm.; most abundant in 20 to 50 fm, rare below 100 fm. Common in shallow coastal water from British Columbia to California.

Remarks

Excellent food fish. Regarded as a delicacy in California. Sometimes confused with speckled sanddab, which has black speckling on body. Positive identification of Pacific sanddab, fulf sanddab, speckled sanddab, and longfin sanddab require fill raker and later line scale counts.

Other common names

nottled sanddab, soft flounder, melgrim

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Petrale Sole Eopsetta jordani

Petrale Sole

 

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side uniform light to dark brown. Blind side white, sometimes with pink traces. Body shape oval to round. Caudal fin longest in middle and slightly indented near edges. Lateral line with low curve over pectoral fin; accessory dorsal branch absent. Mouth large. Maxillary extends to below or slightly beyond middle of lower eye. Upper jaw with two rows of small, arrow-shaped teeth; one row of teeth on lower jaw. Posterior edge of lower jaw rounded. Eyes medium-sized with broad space between them. Anal spine strong.

Size

To 70 cm (28 inches) and 8 pounds. Average size in trawl catch is about 1 to 2 pounds.

Range/Habitat

Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands through Gulf of Alaska to Coronado Islands, northern Baja California.

Depth

On sand and mud bottoms from 10 to 300 fm. Most abundant at 30 to 70 fm from April through October and at 150 to 250 fm during winter.

Remarks

Important commercially because of good size and excellent quality. Most caught by trawl and marketed as fresh or frozen fillets. Similar to flathead sole and Bering flounder which have one row of teeth on upper jaw.

Other common names

brill, California sole, roundnosed sole

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Rex Sole Errex zachirus

Rex Sole

Rex Sole

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side uniform light brown to gray. Edges of dorsal and ventral fins dark or dusky. Pectoral fin on eyed side very long and mostly black. Blind side off-white to dusky. Body elongate. Caudal fin rounded with rays longest in center, forming a broad V. Lateral line nearly straight. Mouth very small. Maxillary extends to below anterior edge of lower eye. Snout rounded. Eyes large with ridge between them. Anal spine strong. Scales small.

Size

To 61 cm (24 inches). Average size about 10 inches and 1/2 pound.

Range/Habitat

Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to Cedros Island, central Baja California.

Depth

Widely distributed on sand and mud bottoms from 10 to 465 fm. Most abundant at about 100 to 250 fm.

Remarks

Abundant and excellent food fish. Commonly marketed "Rexed" which is head off and gutted.

Other common names

longfinned sole, witch sole

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW

Rock Sole Pleuronectes bilineatus

Rock Sole Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side gray to olive to dark brown or black, mottled with lighter or darker shades, sometimes spotted with yellow or red. Dorsal and anal fins have dark blotches or bars; fins may be yellowish near tail. Body thick, oval to round. Caudal fin rounded or in shape of a broad V. Lateral line has high arch; accessory dorsal branch short. Mouth small with fleshy lips. Maxillary extends below anterior edge of eye. Teeth more strongly developed on blind side. Eyes small. Anal spine strong. Scales rough, tuberculate on eyed side.

Size

To 61 cm (24 inches) and 6 pounds. Weight is usually between 1 and 1.5 pounds.

Range/Habitat

In Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk. From Bering Strait south to Tanner Bank off southern California.

Depth

On rocky, pebbly, or sandy bottoms form 0 to 200 fm. Most are caught in 20 to 40 fm.

Remarks

Abundant off B.C. and Alaska. Good food fish. Similar to butter sole, which has a low lateral line arch and longer accessory dorsal branch.

Other common names

broadfin sole, roughscale sole, two-lined flounder

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Sand Sole Psettichthys melanostictus

Sand Sole

 

Description

Right-eyed. Eyed side light green or gray to brown with fine, dark brown to black speckles. Skin on eyed side has the feel of fine sandpaper. Dorsal and anal fins often have dull yellow on edges. Blind side white. Body shape elongate to oval. Caudal fin rounded. Lateral line has slight curve over pectoral fin; accessory dorsal branch short to moderate. Mouth large with large teeth. Maxillary extends below middle of lower eye. Eyes small with flat, wide space between them. Anal spine strong. First few dorsal fin rays elongate and mostly free of membrane.

Size

To 63 cm (25 inches) and over 5 pounds.

Range/Habitat

Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to Redondo Beach, southern California.

Depth

From near shore to about 100 fm. A shallow water species usually found shallower than 40 fm. Prefers sandy bottom.

Remarks

Fine food fish. Common and often caught by sport fishermen from shore. A minor part of the commercial trawl catch.

Other common names

fringe sole, sand flounder, spotted flounder

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

Starry Flounder Platichthys stellatus

Starry Flounder

Starry Flounder

Description

Belongs to the right-eyed family, but can also be left-eyed. Eyed side olive to dark brown or almost black. Unpaired fins white to yellow to orange with black bars. Blind side white to creamy white. Body shape oval. Caudal fin nearly square or slightly rounded. Lateral line with slight curve over pectoral fin; accessory dorsal branch absent. Mouth small. Maxillary extends below anterior part of lower eye. Eyes small with lower yee anterior to upper eye. Space between eyes flat. Head slender, pointed. Anal spine strong. Scattered rough tubercles (star-like scales) on eyed side.

Size

To 91 cm (36 inches) and 20 pounds. Usual size is 12 to 14 inches.

Range/Habitat

In Sea of Japan and Sea of Okhotsk. From Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands south to Los Angeles Harbor, California.

Depth

On mud, sand, or gravel bottoms from 0 to 205 fm; most occur above 80 fm. Usually found near shore. Often enter brackish or fresh water, and young fish are often intertidal.

Remarks

Common. Important sport fish. Highly regarded as food fish, but has moderate commercial value. Processing difficult due to rough skin, and needs to be deep skinned to remove unappealing, dark fat layer.

Other common names

diamond back, emerywheel, grindstone

Credits

Picture: Bill Barss, ODFW
Text: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Bulletin No. 47

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