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Marine sport fish identification key - Flatfish

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Key to flatfish species

1.a.  Eyes typically on left side of head - go to 2

1.b.  Eyes typically on right side of head - go to 4

2.a.  Large scales appearing as bony knobs on eyed side. Dorsal, anal and tail fins with bold black and yellow (occasionally white or orange) stripes - Starry Flounder(Platichthys stellatus) (91 cm / 36 in) - uncommon species - (30-40% are righteye)

2.b.  No protruding bony scales on eyed side - go to 3 

3.a.  Lateral line strongly arched over pectoral fin.  Mouth large, jaw extends beyond rear of lower eye - California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus) (152 cm / 60 in) (40% are righteye) - unusual species

3.b.  Lateral line straight.  Mouth small, jaw ends below front portion of the lower eye.  Bony ridge above lower eye - Pacific Sanddab (Citharichthys sordidus) (41 cm / 16 in) - common species 

4.a.  Maxillary ends below the front portion of the lower eye - go to 5 

4.b.  Maxillary ends at or beyond middle of the lower eye - go to 10 

5.a.  Lateral line with high arch over pectoral fin.  Rough scales on eyed side.  Usually mottled, sometimes with yellow and red - Rock Sole(Lepidopsetta bilineata) (60 cm / 23.5 in) - unusual species;

5.b.  Lateral line straight or slightly arched - go to 6

6.a. Pectoral fin rays are black and longer than head or tail. Fin edges dusky. Ridge between eyes - Rex Sole (Glyptocephalus zachirus) (59 cm / 23.25 in) - rare species

6.b.  Pectoral fins shorter than tail - go to 7 

7.a.  Lateral line branches behind head, creating a 2nd lateral line directly below the dorsal fin - go to 8 

7.b.  Lateral line does not branch - go to 9 

8.a.  Upper eye visible from blind side.  Eyed side uniform brown or may have white speckles.  High, narrow ridge between eyes - English Sole(Parophrys vetulus) (57 cm / 22.5 in) - unusual species

8.b.  Upper eye is not visible from blind side. Edges of dorsal and anal fins yellowish. Eyed side brown with mottling sometimes spotted with yellow or green. No ridge between eyes - Butter Sole (Isopsetta isolepis) (55 cm / 21.75 in)

9.a.  Bony ridge between eyes with a blunt spine at each end; body with a diamond shaped outline; blind side white - Curlfin Sole/Turbot (Pleuronichthys decurrens) (37 cm / 14.5 in) - rare species

9.b.  No bony ridge between eyes; tail rounded; flesh soft; body very slimy; blind side light to dark gray, sometimes with reddish blotches; fins dusky - Dover Sole (Microstomus pacificus) (76 cm / 30 in) - unusual species

10.a.  Lateral line with high arch over pectoral fin; tail slightly forked; body shape elongate diamond; blind side usually white - Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) (267 cm / 105 in) - primary species 

10.b.  Lateral line straight or slightly arched - go to 11

11.a.  Upper eye visible from blind side; teeth are large, arrow-shaped, in two rows on the upper jaw; tail slightly indented in the middle; blind side white with fine, dark speckles - Arrowtooth Flounder (Atheresthes stomias) (84 cm / 33 in) - unusual species

11.b.  Upper eye not visible from blind side - go to 12

12.a.  Skin on eyed side smooth; faint dark blotches on dorsal and anal fins; 2 rows of small teeth on upper jaw - Petrale Sole (Eopsetta jordani) (70 cm / 27.5 in) - unusual species

12.b.  Skin on eyed side rough; first few dorsal rays without membrane between them; dorsal and anal fins tipped with dull yellow - Sand Sole (Psettichthys melanostictus) (63 cm / 25 in) - uncommon species

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Eric Schindler
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
2040 SE Marine Science Drive
Newport, Oregon 97365
(541) 867-4741


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06/16/2021 10:43 AM