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Sole, Pacific

Pacific Sole

©B.Guild/ Charting Nature, www.chartingnature.com


  • Dover and English sole are the most popular types of sole in the U.S.


Pacific sole is a relative of the flounder, and as such is a flatfish with an awkward looking eye. When young, all flatfish swim and look like normal fish, but as they age, they begin to swim flat on the ocean floor. In this new position, one of their eyes becomes useless and migrates to a more useful position on top of the head near the other, stationary, eye. The result is a fish that looks odd, but that has acquired an incredible characteristic to aid its survival by being able to bury itself in the sandy seafloor to avoid predators.

Pacific sole is a catchall descriptor for a number of flatfish that are caught in the waters off Alaska, British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, and California. Pacific sole is not true sole but is related more closely to flounder (true sole are only found in the Atlantic). Whether called flounder, flatfish, or sole, the Pacific species are abundant in Alaska and can be an excellent substitute for the overfished Atlantic flatfish.

Yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera): The smallest and most plentiful of the Pacific sole, yellowfin is taken by factory trawlers in the Bering Sea. The population has recovered well from previous overfishing by foreign fleets. Since yellowfin averages less than a pound, it results in small, two- to four-ounce fillets. Most yellowfin is frozen at sea as headed and gutted fish and sent to China, where it is thawed and filleted before being re-exported to the U.S.

Rock sole (Pleuronectes bilineatus): Larger than yellowfin, rock sole is also caught by trawlers in the Bering Sea; females with roe are sent to Japan and males are sent to China for reprocessing into fillets. The rock sole population is healthy and not considered overfished.

Flathead sole (Hippoglossoides elassodon): Larger than many of the other Pacific soles, flathead yields four- to six-ounce fillets that are very white with a firm texture and most closely resemble true European sole.

Alaska plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus): Although it is caught almost exclusively as bycatch, Alaska plaice is readily available. A larger-sized flounder that yields six- to eight-ounce fillets, this fish is considered to be one of the better-quality flatfish caught off Alaska.

Dover sole (Microstomus pacificus): Not to be confused with the European Dover sole (Solea vulgaris), the Pacific Dover sole is larger in size (reaches eight pounds but is usually caught at two pounds or smaller) though it lacks the subtle flavor and firm texture of its European relative. Dover sole is not considered overfished off the U.S. west coast, but its status is less clear in the North Pacific.

Rex sole (Errex zachirus): Available in limited quantities, rex sole has a taste and texture similar to the East Coast gray sole and is often cooked whole.


Since 1987, U.S. groundfish catches in the Bering Sea—which include sole, pollock, and cod—have been limited to a two million MT ecosystem cap. Since fishermen prefer more profitable species like pollock and cod, these flatfish (including sole) have been fished far below allowable catch levels, ensuring an abundant flatfish population.

Over 80 percent of Pacific flatfish are landed in Alaska, yet the majority of the Alaskan catch is exported. Most of the Pacific flatfish sold in the U.S. originates off the West Coast, where less is known about the health of the populations. While flatfish populations in this region seem to be doing well, fishing methods for Pacific sole remain a concern. Bottom trawls, which generally have negative effects on seafloor habitat, are used to catch sole; however, Pacific sole are generally found in sand and muddy seafloor areas where the effects of trawling are less harmful.


Available periodically throughout the year



  • Whole
  • Headed and gutted
  • Dressed (head-on, boneless)


  • Whole
  • Headed and gutted
  • Dressed (head-on, boneless)
  • Skinless, boneless fillets (usually twice-frozen), in block form or individually quick frozen (IQF)


  • Quality of flatfish varies greatly; the highest quality fillets should have uniform color and no bruising.
  • When buying Alaska plaice, skinless is best as the skin of this fish harbors bacteria that can generate an undesirable odor.


Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI)
311 N. Franklin St., Suite 200, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 800–478–2903, Fax: 907–465–5572, Web Site: www.alaskaseafood.org, Email: info@alaskaseafood.orgThe Institute promotes all major Alaska seafoods, including North Pacific sole. The ASMI Web site contains a variety of useful information, including recipes, promotional materials and a directory of Alaskan sole suppliers.

Pacific Seafood Processors Association
1900 W. Emerson St. #205, Seattle, WA 98119, Phone: 206–281–1667, Web Site: www.pspafish.net, Email: info@pspafish.netThe Pacific Seafood Processors Association represents the interests of floating and shore-based processors operating from Oregon to the North Pacific.