Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Amendment 80 Groundfish Trawl Fisheries.
About the Species
U.S. wild-caught rock sole is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population levels in Alaska.
At recommended levels.
Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitat affected by bottom trawls used to harvest rock sole.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- There are two species of rock sole: Northern rock sole and rock sole. According to the most recent stock assessments:
- The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Rock Sole Complex is not overfished (2020 stock assessment) and not subject to overfishing based on 2020 catch data. Northern rock sole is assessed and is the primary species in the complex. 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 are the primary species in the complex. Summary stock assessment information for Northern rock sole can be found on Stock SMART and for rock sole on Stock SMART.
- Rock sole 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 2019 catch data.
- Rock sole are a flatfish with both eyes located on the right side of their head.
- Northern rock sole’s underside is creamy white, whereas southern rock sole’s underside is white with glossy highlights.
- Rock sole are sometimes called roughback because of the rough scales on their backs.
- Rock sole grow up to 2 feet long and can live for more than 20 years.
- They are able to reproduce when they reach 4 to 7 years old.
- Northern rock sole spawn in midwinter and spring, and southern rock sole spawn in the summer.
- Females lay eggs near the ocean bottom, and the eggs stick wherever they land. Eggs hatch between 6 and 25 days later, depending on water temperature.
- Larval rock sole eat plankton and algae.
- Early juveniles eat zooplankton, and late juvenile and adults prey on bivalves, worms, amphipods, mollusks, and crustaceans.
- Larger fishes, including rock sole, feed on larval and juvenile rock sole.
- Sharks, marine mammals, and larger fishes prey on adults.
- Rock sole’s coloring and movements on the sea floor often confuse predators.
Where They Live
- Northern rock sole are found from Puget Sound through the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to the Kuril Islands (north of Japan).
- Southern rock sole are found from the southeast Bering Sea to Baja California.
- NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage this fishery in Alaska.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plans for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska:
- Fishermen must have a permit to participate in the fishery, and the number of available permits is limited to control the amount of fishing.
- Managers set an annual catch limit for rock sole.
- In the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands a percentage of the annual catch limit is allocated to the community development quota program, which benefits fishery-dependent communities in Western Alaska. The rest is allocated under a catch share program to a trawl catcher/processor sector based on historic harvest and future harvest needs to improve retention and utilization of fishery resources by the trawl fleet.
- In the Gulf of Alaska, total allowable catch is allocated by regulatory area (western, central, and two sub-areas of the eastern Gulf of Alaska).
- Catch is monitored through record keeping, reporting requirements, and observer monitoring.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage this fishery on the West Coast.
- Managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan:
- Only a small amount of rock sole is harvested incidentally in fisheries off the West Coast.
- Rock sole is included in the groundfish fishery management plan, but it is not assessed or directly managed.
- In 2020, commercial landings of rock sole totaled 61.3 million pounds and were valued at $12.5 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- Almost all commercial harvest of rock sole comes from Alaska, mainly the Bering Sea.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Bottom trawls are primarily used to harvest rock sole.
- Trawls can contact the ocean floor and impact habitats, depending on the characteristics of the ocean bottom and the size of the gear.
- Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska fishermen use a modified trawl gear which reduces the impact of trawling on animals living on the sea floor, including crabs.
- Halibut, salmon, and crab are sometimes incidentally caught in the groundfish fishery in Alaska.
- There is a limit on how much halibut, herring, and crab can be incidentally caught. If this limit is reached, an area or the entire fishery is closed for the remainder of the season.
- NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management council have implemented large closed areas to protect sensitive rocky, cold-water coral and sponge habitats from bottom trawls.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
NOAA Fisheries conducts various research activities on the biology, behavior, and ecology of rock sole. The results of this research are used to inform management decisions for this species.
Rock Sole in Alaska
Our research in Alaska on the distribution and abundance, growth and maturity, habitat preference, migration behavior, and food relationships of rock sole provides information crucial for understanding and managing this species.
Supplemental Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis for Amendment 75 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Area - Changes in IR/IU Flatfish Requirements
Analysis of alternative actions to address the issue of the improved retention and improved…
Environmental Assessment of an Experimental Fishing Permit to Test the Effects of an Open-top Trawl Configuration on Species and Size Composition of Catch in Trawls Targeting Yellowfin Sole
This Environmental Assessment addresses an experimental fishing permit application by the…
Data & Maps
2020 Assessment of Northern and Southern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxstra and bilineata) stocks in the Gulf of Alaska
The Gulf of Alaska (GOA) northern and southern rock sole assessment is conducted on a 4-year…
Northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra n. sp.) are distributed primarily on the eastern Bering…
The Gulf of Alaska (GOA) northern and southern rock sole assessment has been moved to a 4-year…