Yellowtail Flounder

Yellowtail flounder swimming on the ocean floor

About The Species

U.S. wild-caught yellowtail flounder is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

All three stocks are significantly below target population levels. Rebuilding plans are in place for Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. A rebuilding plan is being developed for the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock.

Fishing Status

The fishing rates for all three stocks are reduced to end overfishing.

Habitat Impact

Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitats that are affected by some kinds of trawl gear.


Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.


  • According to the 2015 stock assessment, the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock of yellowtail flounder is overfished and is subject to overfishing.
    • A rebuilding plan is being developed for this stock.
  • According to the 2015 stock assessment, the Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock is overfished and is subject to overfishing. The stock is at 16 percent of the biomass target level.
  • According to the 2013 stock assessment, the Georges Bank stock is overfished and is subject to overfishing. The stock is at 2 percent of the biomass target level.
  • Yellowtail flounder is a thin-bodied, right-eyed flounder.
  • They are wide – nearly half as broad as they are long – with an oval body.
  • They have a small mouth and an arched lateral line.
  • Their upper side, including the fins, is brownish or olive, tinged with red and marked with large, irregular rusty red spots.
  • True to their name, their tail fin and the edges of the two long fins are yellow.
  • The underside is white, except for the caudal peduncle (the area between the body and the tail), which is yellowish.
Behavior and Diet
  • Yellowtail flounder grow faster than most flatfish, up to 22 inches and 2.2 pounds.
  • They can live up to 17 years, although most don’t live past age 7.
  • They also mature earlier than most flatfish.
  • Almost all females are able to reproduce by the time they reach age 3.
  • They spawn during the spring and summer.
  • Females deposit their eggs on the ocean floor. After the eggs are fertilized, they float to the surface and the larvae drift in surface waters for about 2 months.
  • When yellowtail flounder are first hatched, their eyes are symmetrical, with an eye on each side of their head. As the fish grows, it flattens out and the left eye slowly moves over to the right side of its head. After this metamorphosis, the juvenile settles to the ocean bottom.
  • Juvenile yellowtail flounder mostly eat worms.
  • Adults feed on crustaceans and worms.
  • Spiny dogfish, skate, and a number of fish such as cod, hakes, flounder, and monkfish prey on yellowtail flounder.
Location Description

Yellowtail flounder are found along the Atlantic coast of North America from Newfoundland to the Chesapeake Bay.

  • NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage the yellowtail flounder fishery.
  • Managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan:
    • Managers have implemented measures to reduce fishing rates to promote rebuilding of the stocks to target levels, by 2032 for the Georges Bank stock and by 2023 for the Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock. The measures include:
      • Permitting requirements.
      • Time/area closures to control fishing effort and protect spawning fish and habitat.
      • A limit on the amount of all groundfish that can be caught (annual catch limits), as well as response measures if the catch limits are exceeded.
      • A number of measures to reduce the fishery’s impact on habitat and other species.
      • Minimum size limits to ensure that fish are able to spawn at least once before being caught.
    • The optional catch share program can be used for cod and other groundfish species, and does the following:
      • Allows fishing vessels to fish together in groups (sectors).
      • Exempts sectors from many gear and area restrictions, but they must stop fishing for groundfish once the sector catches a predetermined allotment of fish, or acquire additional quota from other sectors.
      • Allows fishermen more control over when, where, and how they fish, as well as the ability to target stocks that are not overfished.
    • Fishermen who choose not to join a sector must fish under regulations that limit the number of days they can fish, amount they can catch, and when and where they can fish.
      • Most boats are required to carry vessel monitoring systems to ensure compliance with area restrictions, such as closed areas.
  • The Georges Bank stock is a transboundary resource. Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages the Canadian fishery on Georges Bank. Management guidance is obtained through the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee, under an international agreement between the United States and Canada.
    • The United States and Canada implemented a formal quota-sharing agreement in 2004 to share the harvest of yellowtail flounder on Georges Bank. The agreement includes:
      • Total allowable catch quotas for each country.
      • In-season monitoring of the U.S. catch of yellowtail flounder.