About the Species
U.S. wild-caught English sole is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level on the West Coast.
At recommended levels.
Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitats affected by bottom trawls used to harvest English sole.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- There are three stocks of English sole: Pacific coast, one stock contained in a stock complex in the Gulf of Alaska, and one stock contained in a stock complex in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. According to the most recent stock assessments:
- The Pacific coast stock is not overfished (2013 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- The Gulf of Alaska Shallow Water Flatfish Complex is not overfished (2017 stock assessments) and not subject to overfishing based on 2020 catch data. Northern rock sole and rock sole are assessed and English sole is a secondary species in the complex. Summary stock assessment information for Northern rock sole can be found on Stock SMART and summary stock assessment information for rock sole can be found on Stock SMART.
- The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands stock is managed as part of the Other Flatfish Complex and has not been assessed so the population status is unknown. This complex is not subject to overfishing based on 2020 catch data.
- English sole are flatfish, with both of their eyes located on the right side of their head.
- They have a pointed snout and their upper eye is visible on their underside.
- Female English sole grow twice as large as males, up to about 2 feet.
- Females can live for more than 20 years, 4 years longer than males.
- Males are able to reproduce when they reach 2 years old. Females mature starting at 3 years old.
- They spawn from winter to early spring over soft muddy ocean floors in water 165 to 230 feet deep.
- Depending on their size, females release between 150,000 and 2 million eggs. Eggs sink to the bottom a few days after spawning.
- Larvae stay near the surface for about 2 to 3 months before they are transported by wind and tidal streams to nearshore and estuarine nursery areas – an uncommon characteristic for a flatfish species in this region.
- Juveniles spend 1 to 2 years developing in nursery areas before migrating out to deeper waters, typically in late May.
- Larvae feed on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals).
- Juvenile and adult English sole feed on crustaceans, worms, small bivalves, clam siphons, and other bottom-dwelling invertebrates.
- English sole feed during the day using sight and smell, and sometimes dig for their prey.
- Seabirds, larger fishes, and marine mammals prey on juveniles. Marine mammals, sharks, and other large fish prey on adults.
Where They Live
- English sole are found off the west coast of North America from the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to central Baja California.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the English sole fishery on the West Coast.
- Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
- Limits on the number of permits and fishermen allowed.
- Limits on the minimum size of fish that may be harvested.
- Limit on how much may be harvested in one fishing trip.
- Certain seasons and areas are closed to fishing.
- Gear restrictions help reduce bycatch and impacts on habitat.
- A trawl rationalization catch share program includes:
- Catch limits based on the health of each fish stock and divided into shares that are allocated to individual fishermen or groups.
- These fishermen can decide how and when to catch their share – preferably when weather, markets, and business conditions are most favorable, allowing the fishery the flexibility to be more environmentally responsible, safer, more efficient, and more valuable.
- NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the English sole fishery in Alaska.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska:
- There is no directed fishery for English sole, and only minor amounts are landed incidentally in other fisheries.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands:
- Fishermen must have a permit to participate in these fisheries, and the number of permits is limited to control the amount of fishing.
- Non-pelagic trawl gear used in directed flatfish fisheries in the Bering Sea is required to be modified to raise portions of the gear off the sea floor.
- There is no directed fishery for English sole, but managers set total allowable catch levels for the flatfish complex that contains English sole.
- In 2020, commercial landings of English sole totaled 1.1 million pounds and were valued at $142,000, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- The majority of the catch comes from Oregon and Alaska.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Bottom trawls are used to catch English sole.
- Trawls that are used to harvest English sole can contact the ocean floor and impact habitats, depending on the characteristics of the ocean bottom and the size of the gear.
- Bottom trawls cause minimal damage to habitat when targeting English sole over soft, sandy, or muddy ocean bottoms on the West Coast and in Alaska.
- In Alaska and on the West Coast, NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management councils have implemented large closed areas to protect sensitive rocky, cold-water coral and sponge habitats from bottom trawls.
- Vessel monitoring systems allow enforcement staff and fishery managers to monitor GPS locations of fishing activities to ensure vessels are complying with closed areas.
- In Alaska, fishery managers limit the amount of halibut, herring, and crab that groundfish fisheries can incidentally catch. If the limit is reached, managers close the fishery for the remainder of the season.