Types of Flatfish: the Complete Guide

Studying Time: 7 minutes

It’s straightforward to get confused by the various kinds of Flatfish. All of them look comparable. All of them style nice. What’s extra, one man’s Sole is one other man’s Flounder, and the names of Flatfish are sometimes totally different within the ocean and in your plate. With that in thoughts, we’re diving into the muddy waters of those piscine pancakes to chop by way of the jargon and clarify what’s what.

Flatfish are a typical catch in each the US and the UK. Some are the identical in each international locations, however lots of them aren’t. This text offers you a primary rundown of the preferred Flatfish in North America and in Britain. You may as well study slightly about how the household matches collectively – what makes a “flat fish” a Flatfish, so to talk.

What’s a Flatfish: a Fast Overview

“Flatfish” is a catch-all identify for greater than 700 totally different species of fish. The group consists of Flounder, Halibut, Sole, Plaice, Dab, Turbot, and extra. It’s essential to notice that half the time these names don’t comply with any form of scientific classification. Just about all our favourite Flatfish are technically Flounder, however most of them go by one other identify.

Flatfish spend their lives mendacity on the seafloor ready for a meal to swim their means. Due to this, they’re completely designed for a life on the underside. Their dabbled pores and skin modifications shade to match their environment and their white underside makes them invisible from under in the event that they ever depart their muddy dwelling.

To prime all of it off, their entire head is twisted sideways. Flatfish begin out spherical, however as they develop, their physique begins to flatten out. One eye “migrates” throughout their head and their mouth twists to the facet. The group is split into “right-eye” or “left-eye” fish relying on which eye strikes. If you happen to maintain one up and it faces proper when its eyes are above its mouth, it’s right-eyed. Both means, it’s not fairly.

This brings us on to a vital level: Simply because a fish is flat, that doesn’t robotically make it a Flatfish. The group doesn’t embody Rays, Skates, Monkfish, or different squashed-looking species. It solely refers back to the extensive household of fish with two eyes on one facet of their face.

Varieties of Flatfish in North America

Now that you already know the fundamentals, it’s time to sort out the precise species yow will discover in North America. If you happen to’re solely fascinated with British waters, be happy to skip right down to the following part. Studying each elements offers you the clearest image of how the household matches collectively, although.


In essence, Flounder is the overall identify for a whole bunch of various fish. The group consists of Halibut, Plaice, Dab – just about each Flatfish in North America. To maintain issues easy, let’s follow the fish that really have Flounder of their identify.

Most North American Flounders stay alongside the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The preferred ones are Summer time Flounder (Fluke), Winter Flounder (American Lemon Sole), and Southern Flounder. We’ve coated these three in additional element right here. On the West Coast, you even have Starry Flounder and California Flounder. Extra on that under.


Halibut are the undisputed kings of the underside, reaching over 8 toes lengthy and a number of other hundred kilos in weight. The 2 species of “true” Halibut are Atlantic and Pacific Halibut. Sadly, Atlantic Halibut is now endangered, so many of the fish on the market in North America is Pacific Halibut caught in Alaska.

Easy thus far? Preserve studying. California Flounder is commonly referred to as “Halibut” as a result of it’s an identical form. There’s additionally Greenland “Halibut,” which the FDA rebranded to Greenland Turbot to keep away from confusion. The truth that it’s not a Turbot both didn’t appear to matter. In order for you specifics on the distinction between Halibut and Flounder, we’ve gone into extra element right here.


Picture supply: Linda Snook/MBNMS, Wikimedia

American Sole is a household of fish with small, barely noticeable heads and their excessive tolerance for recent water. They’re a special household to European Soles, though the preferred ones are named after species in Britain. On the Pacific Coast, they embody English, Petrale, Curlfin, and Pacific Dover Sole (not the identical as European Dover Sole).

There are additionally a few fish on the East Coast that individuals name “Sole,” specifically Winter Flounder (“Lemon Sole,” however a special species to European Lemon Sole), and Witch Flounder (which generally goes by “Gray Sole”). If you happen to’re shopping for Sole in a store or a fish market, it’s most probably Pacific Dover Sole or American Lemon Sole, relying on the place you reside.


Picture supply: NOAA NEFSC Photograph Gallery

Plaice is a reputation given to 4 totally different species of right-eye Flounder. Two of them stay in North America, the most typical of which is American Plaice. This fish lives on each side of the Atlantic, and goes by the identify “Tough Dab” in Europe. There’s additionally a species within the Pacific referred to as Alaska Plaice.

North America’s largest business Plaice fishery is in Labrador in Canada. Likelihood is that any Plaice you purchase was caught there. Alaska Plaice aren’t an enormous goal commercially and also you received’t usually discover them on the market except you reside on the North Pacific coast.

And So A lot Extra!

There are a dozen extra Flatfish names in North America. In brief, they’re all Flounder. If you happen to see one thing offered as “Turbot,” it’s both Greenland Halibut, Arrowtooth Flounder, or Curlfin Sole. Simply purchased some “Brill?” It’s in all probability Petrale Sole. All of those are Flounders.

Varieties of Flatfish within the UK

Flatfish are lots much less complicated within the UK. For one factor, there are far fewer species than in North America. There’s additionally the truth that they weren’t named at random by European settlers primarily based on what they vaguely seemed like. Listed here are the most typical species.


Picture supply: Tiit Hunt, Wikimedia, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There’s just one fish within the UK referred to as Flounder – European Flounder. These guys stay throughout the Britsh Isles and are a daily goal for anglers and business crews alike. Regardless of this, Flounder shares are a lot more healthy than different British Flatfish, making it various in case you’re searching for sustainable fish.

You’ll be able to acknowledge Flounder by their lengthy physique and extensive dorsal fins which give them a diamond form after they’re prolonged however fold flat in opposition to their sides. Regardless of this, Flounder usually will get combined up with European Plaice. If you happen to can’t inform which one you’re taking a look at, test the top. Plaice have a bony ridge on their heads, Flounder don’t.


Picture supply: Hans Ngf, Flikr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Talking of Plaice, these are probably the most standard Flatfish to eat within the UK. In addition to the business harvest, they’re a favourite amongst British sea anglers. The best strategy to determine Plaice is by their signature orange spots. In addition they have rounded dorsal fins, and have a clearly outlined head like Flounder.

Much like Flounder, European Plaice shares appear to be wholesome for the time being. They have been massively overfished within the Seventies and ‘80s, however their numbers at the moment are rising, in line with the Worldwide Union for the Conservation of Nature.


Turbot are the tastiest and costliest sort of Flatfish. A lot so, that they’ve earned the nickname “King of Fish.” This makes Turbot a favourite for each business and leisure fishers. It additionally signifies that you generally discover different fish offered as Turbot in much less respected eating places.

After all, there’s one other draw back to Turbot being so tasty: overfishing. Turbot numbers are lowering and the species as an entire is susceptible to extinction, in line with the IUNC. In order for you our recommendation, follow different Flatfish species that value half as a lot and aren’t almost as overfished.


There are two species of Sole within the UK: Dover Sole and Lemon Sole. Neither of them are the identical as their American counterparts, and a few British anglers even see American Soles as fakes of their favourite meals. Dover Sole will get its identify from the southern port city of Dover, and it’s most typical within the South of England, however each these fish present up throughout Britain.

Sole are straightforward to acknowledge, because of their lengthy physique and small head. Dover Sole is a way more essential fish, each commercially and recreationally. It lives in a lot shallower water, so it’s simpler to get to. On prime of that, Lemon Sole have a tiny mouths that make them tough to hook even when a sea angler comes throughout one.

And Extra!

Chips outlets and fishmongers across the nation are full of various Flatfish. Some, like Dab, have change into widespread on British menus since extra prestigious fish grew scarce. Others, like Brill, have all the time been loved, however have by no means been as standard as mainstay species like Plaice or Sole.

And naturally, there are some species, like Atlantic Halibut, which you’ll be able to nonetheless purchase however that are tragically endangered within the wild. If it must be Halibut, be certain it’s Alaskan Halibut, as these guys are rather more sustainably managed.

Summing Up: the Many Names and Varieties of Flatfish.

If there’s one factor you possibly can take away from all this, it’s that the names of Flatfish usually have little or no to do with the species themselves. Dozens of fish go by a handful of names, and most of them are referred to as one thing totally different elsewhere.

No matter you name them, all Flatfish have just a few issues in widespread. They stay on the underside, their faces are the stuff of nightmares, and so they style completely scrumptious. Oh, and in case you’re unsure what you’ve caught, likelihood is it’s technically a Flounder.

What are your favourite varieties of Flatfish? Do you catch any of them commonly? Did we make it easier to make sense of the numerous complicated names these bottom-dwellers have? Tell us within the feedback under, we love to listen to from you!

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