About the Species
Yellowtail flounder live along the Atlantic coast of North America from Newfoundland to the Chesapeake Bay. There are three stocks in U.S waters: the Gulf of Maine/Cape Cod, Georges Bank, and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stocks, all of which NOAA Fisheries is working to rebuild.
The Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock is below target population levels. The Georges Bank and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stocks are significantly below target population levels. Rebuilding plans are in place for all three stocks.
At recommended levels in Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic. In Georges Bank the fishing rate is reduced to end overfishing.
Area closures and gear restrictions protect habitats that are affected by some kinds of trawl gear.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
There are three stocks of yellowtail flounder: Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock, Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock, and a Georges Bank stock. According to the most recent stock assessments:
The Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stock is overfished but not subject to overfishing (2019 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
The Cape Cod/Gulf of Maine stock is not overfished but still rebuilding to the target level, and not subject to overfishing (2019 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
The Georges Bank stock is overfished and subject to overfishing (2013 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- 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.
- 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.
Where They Live
- Yellowtail flounder are found along the Atlantic coast of North America from Newfoundland to the Chesapeake Bay.
- There are three stocks of yellowtail flounder in U.S. waters, the Gulf of Maine/Cape Cod, Georges Bank, and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic stocks.
- NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council manage Gulf of Maine and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic yellowtail flounder; NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council collaborate with Canada to jointly manage Georges Bank yellowtail flounder, because the stock spans the international boundary.
- Yellowtail flounder, along with other groundfish in New England waters, are managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which includes:
- Permitting requirements for commercial vessels.
- Separate management measures for recreational vessels.
- Time/Area Closures to protect spawning fish and habitat.
- Minimum fish sizes to prevent harvest of juvenile fish.
- Annual catch limits, based on best available science.
- An optional sector (catch share) program can be used for yellowtail flounder and other groundfish species. The sector program allows fishermen to form harvesting cooperatives and work together to decide when, where, and how they harvest fish.
- Commercial fishery:
- In 2020, commercial landings of yellowtail flounder totaled more than 1.1 million pounds, and were valued at over $1.1 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Yellowtail flounder are commonly harvested using trawl nets and, to a lesser extent, gillnets.
- Areas closures and gear restrictions reduce habitat impacts from trawl nets. Fishermen follow management measures to designed to reduce interactions with marine mammals, including gear modifications, seasonal closures, and use of marine mammal deterrents.
- Recreational fishery:
- Yellowtail flounder are not commonly encountered by the recreational fishery.
- Regulations include minimum fish sizes and possession limits.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
Yellowtail flounder is managed under the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery Management Plan along with 12 other species of groundfish. Collectively, these 13 species are referred to as the Northeast multispecies complex.
Data & Maps
It is important to ensure consistency in fish ages used in fish population assessments. The Fishery…