Yellowtail Flounder

Yellowtail Flounder

Limanda ferruginea


    Flounder, Rusty Dab


  • U.S. wild-caught from Maine to New Jersey



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Yellowtail flounder over the ocean floor

Yellowtail flounder over the ocean floor.


Yellowtail flounder was not considered a valuable flatfish until the mid-1930s, when winter flounder stocks declined. As demand for protein increased during World War II, more fishermen, both foreign and domestic, started fishing with otter trawls. The yellowtail flounder fishery soon expanded, especially in the Georges Bank and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic areas. In the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, annual harvests averaged 14,000 metric tons from Georges Bank and 20,000 metric tons from the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic area. By the 1970s, Congress passed a law that phased out foreign fishing in U.S. waters, and harvest generally declined. However, years of heavy fishing had depleted the yellowtail stocks and they reached record lows in the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the Georges Bank and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stocks had collapsed.

In the United States, when scientists determine a fish stock is overfished, fishery managers are required by law to develop a strategy, a "rebuilding plan", to manage harvests at a level that will allow the overfished stock to rebuild to target population levels by a specified deadline. Managers implemented rebuilding plans for the Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stocks in 2004 and one for the Georges Bank stock in 2006. The rebuilding plan for the Georges Bank stock was revised in 2012 to extend the target rebuilding date to 2032. The Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock target rebuilding date is 2023. Under these plans, fishermen follow a number of strict measures to reduce harvests of yellowtail flounder and allow the stocks to recover. The Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock was declared rebuilt in 2012.

Looking Ahead

Yellowtail flounder can be incidentally caught in fisheries for other species, such as sea scallops. To reduce impacts of bycatch on rebuilding yellowtail stocks, managers have placed a limit on the amount of yellowtail that can be incidentally caught in the scallop fishery. If this limit is exceeded, managers will close certain areas where yellowtail are known to live for a portion of the next fishing season. The length of the closure depends on the degree of overharvest. Scallopers are required to report how much yellowtail they catch every day so managers can monitor bycatch. The scallop fishery also uses a voluntary bycatch avoidance program to prevent overages of their catch limit.



Yellowtail flounder are found along the Atlantic coast of North America from Newfoundland to the Chesapeake Bay. They live on sandy bottoms in waters between 130 and 230 feet deep. Yellowtail flounder are relatively sedentary.



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. Yellowtail flounder 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 yellowtail flounder settles to the bottom.

Juvenile yellowtail flounder mostly eat polychaete worms; adults feed on crustaceans and polychaete worms. Spiny dogfish, skate, and a number of fish such as cod, hakes, flounder, and monkfish prey on yellowtail flounder.



Yellowtail 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 eyed 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 blind side is white, except for the caudal peduncle (the area between the body and the tail), which is yellowish.



Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct bottom trawl surveys every year during the fall and spring in inshore and offshore areas off the northeast coast to assess and monitor the abundance of yellowtail flounder and other species. Managers use this data along with information from Canadian, state agency, and university-run surveys to determine the status of the yellowtail flounder stocks.



Yellowtail flounder is divided into three stocks for management purposes: Georges Bank, Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine, and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic. The Georges Bank stock was assessed in 2013, while the other stocks were last assessed in 2012. The Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock and the Georges Bank stock are both currently overfished, while the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock is not. The Georges Bank stock is at less than 2 percent of the target population level. The Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock is at 24 percent of the target level. The biomass target for the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock was lowered in 2012 to reflect a decrease in productivity for this stock. This stock was declared rebuilt in 2012 and is now 29 percent above the target level.




Harvesting Yellowtail Flounder

U.S. fishermen harvest yellowtail flounder with otter trawls and sink gillnets as part of the large mesh groundfish fishery along the northeast coast. Yellowtail flounder are usually found on sandy bottoms, which are more resilient to trawling than other, more sensitive habitats such as corals. Certain areas are also closed to fishing to protect sensitive habitats and species.

Fishermen are required to use nets with mesh large enough to allow undersized yellowtail flounder and other groundfish to escape. Gillnets and trawls can incidentally catch sturgeon, sea turtles, and marine mammals. To reduce marine mammal bycatch fishermen follow a number of mandatory and voluntary measures under the Harbor Porpoise and Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plans. Mandatory measures include gear modifications, seasonal closures, and a requirement to have acoustic alarms on nets to prevent harbor porpoises from getting entangled in gillnets. Voluntary measures include reducing the amount of turns made by the fishing vessel and tow times while fishing at night and increasing communication between vessels about the presence of marine mammals in an area. At-sea fishery observers monitor bycatch in the groundfish fishery.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council
Management guidance for the Georges Bank yellowtail stock is also obtained through the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee, under an international agreement between the U.S. and Canada.

Current management: Under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, along with several other groundfish species. Yellowtail flounder is divided into three stocks for management purposes: Georges Bank, Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine, and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic.

In 2010, managers enacted measures to end overfishing, continue to rebuild overfished groundfish stocks, and maintain healthy ones. These measures reduce harvests to a level that will allow the stocks to rebuild to target levels by specified deadlines (2032 for the Georges Bank stock and 2023 for the Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock) and include:

  • Annual catch limits on the amount of all groundfish that can be caught, plus measures to respond if the catch limits are exceeded.
  • Optional catch share program – fishing vessels may now fish together in groups (sectors). Sectors are established annually and are allotted a portion of the total available groundfish catch, based on the combined fishing history of the vessels that are members of a sector. They are exempt from many gear and area restrictions but must stop fishing once the sector catches their allotment of fish. This allows fishermen more control over where and how they fish and the ability to target healthier stocks rather than overfished stocks.
  • Fishermen who choose not to join a sector must fish under the existing system of regulations, with limits on 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 when they go fishing to ensure compliance with area restrictions, such as closed areas.

The Georges Bank stock is a transboundary resource. Fisheries and Oceans Canada disclaimer manages the Canadian fishery on Georges Bank. The United States and Canada implemented a formal quota-sharing agreement in 2004 to share the harvest of yellowtail flounder in this area. The agreement includes total allowable catch quotas for each country as well as in-season monitoring of the U.S. catch of yellowtail flounder on Georges Bank.


Annual Harvest

In 2012, commercial fishermen in the United States harvested slightly more than 5 million pounds of yellowtail flounder. Nearly half the total U.S. landings of yellowtail flounder are harvested by U.S. vessels that fish on the Grand Banks, in Canadian waters. This is allowed because the U.S. has a Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization quota.



The 2012 harvest of yellowtail flounder was valued at $6.45 million.



There are hundreds of flatfish species found around the world. The most commercially important family of flatfish is Plueronectidae, which is concentrated in northern waters. Yellowtail is a member of this family.

Raw flounder ranges in color from white to pinkish to tan; cooked flounder is pure white. The meat is lean, boneless, and flaky with a mild flavor. The sweet taste and firm texture of yellowtail flounder is often the standard to which other flounders are compared.






Flounder is a good, low-fat source of B vitamins and an excellent source of niacin.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 91
Protein 18.84 g
Fat, total 1.19 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.283 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 48 mg
Selenium 32.7 mcg
Sodium 81 mg

Yellowtail Flounder Table of Nutrition