Flatfish are among the most popular saltwater fish of the Atlantic Coast. This group includes halibut, flounders, plaice, gray sole, and others.
Flatfish begin life as free-swimming fish. During growth, the “bottom” eye migrates to the upward-facing side of the body, allowing young fish to lie on one side.
The American plaice was once one of the most abundant flatfish in the Northwest Atlantic. Although stocks have declined from historical levels, fisheries still exist in the Canadian Maritimes and other areas of the North Atlantic.
The Atlantic halibut is the world’s largest flatfish. Adults can reach lengths of 15 feet or more and weigh several hundred pounds. Atlantic halibut have a large mouth armed with numerous sharp curved teeth.
Atlantic halibut vary from greenish brown to very dark chestnut brown on their upper side. The bottom side is usually white in young fish. The bottom side of larger specimens may have mottled gray or even dark red coloration.
The Atlantic halibut can be distinguished from smaller flatfish by its concave tail.
Atlantic halibut are found throughout the northern Atlantic. In the northwestern Atlantic, fisheries occur off the coasts of Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Nova Scotia, and northern New England.
The winter flounder or blackback is an important fish throughout New England. This small, mild-tasting flounder is sought after as table fare.
Biologists and fishermen classify winter flounder into two distinct groups. North of Cape Cod, members of the species known as “Georges Bank flounder” or “lemon sole” are said to have a slightly appearance and yellowish coloration.
The gray sole or witch flounder is grayish-brown on the eyed side and off-white on the underside. This righteye flatfish is caught in moderately deep waters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and New England.
Gray sole reach a maximum length around 25 inches, weighing up to 5 pounds. Typical individuals are 12 – 20 inches in length.
The meat is pure white, lean, flaky, and mild flavored. Gray sole is marketed as fresh whole fish, or fresh or frozen fillets.
Yellowtail flounder reach maximum sizes of roughly 22 inches total length and 2.2 pounds in weight. They are popular in seafood markets for their mild meat.
Yellowtail flounder are found along the Atlantic coast of North America from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Labrador, and Newfoundland to the Chesapeake Bay.
The summer flounder or fluke is an important species in the Northeast and along Mid Atlantic Coast. Summer flounder are prized for their size and mild flavor.