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Yellowfin Sole Research

image of yellowfin sole

The yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera) is one of the most abundant flatfish species in the eastern Bering Sea and is the target of the largest flatfish fishery in the United States. They inhabit the EBS shelf and are considered one stock. Abundance in the Aleutian Islands region is negligible. Yellowfin sole are distributed in North American waters from off British Columbia, Canada, (approx. lat. 49° N) to the Chukchi Sea (about lat. 70° N) and south along the Asian coast to about lat. 35°N off the South Korean coast in the Sea of Japan.

Adults exhibit a benthic lifestyle and occupy separate winter, spawning and summertime feeding distributions on the eastern Bering Sea shelf. From over-winter grounds near the shelf margins, adults begin a migration onto the inner shelf in April or early May each year for spawning and feeding. The directed fishery typically occurs from spring through December. Yellowfin sole is managed as part of the shallow-water flatfish complex in the Gulf of Alaska.

Yellowfin sole are a relatively slow growing and long-lived fish species. Yellowfin sole concentrate on the outer shelf in the winter, and move to very shallow waters (<30 m) to spawn and feed in the summer. Prey includes benthic infauna and epifauna, euphausiids, and fish.

Females reach 50% maturity at 30 cm (about 10.5 years old) and are highly fecund, producing one to three million eggs. Spawning occurs in June and July in shallow waters of Bristol Bay to Nunivak Island. Annual natural mortality of adults has been estimated to be about 10% (M = 0.12). Yellowfin sole begin to recruit to trawl fisheries at age 6, but are not fully recruited to all gear types until about age 13. Maximum age for this species is 31 years. The stock has recently been at high population levels due to good recruitment in the early 1970's and low exploitation. Biomass is projected to decline slowly in coming years.

Yellowfin sole are targeted primarily by trawl catcher-processors. Seasons are generally limited by seasonal apportionments of halibut. Fishing occurs throughout the shelf area. Yellowfin sole were overexploited by foreign fisheries in 1959-1962, when catches averaged about 400,000 t. As a result of reduced abundance, annual catches declined to about 100,000 t through the late 1960's to 50,000 t in the 1970's. Abundance increased in the 1980's, resulting in increased catch by foreign and joint-venture operations. The fishery became fully domestic in 1991.

During 2015, pollock made up 67% of the total groundfish catch off Alaska.  The pollock catch for 2015 was 1,490,780 metric tons (t), up approximately 3% from 2014.

The 2015 catch of flatfish, which includes yellowfin sole, rock sole and arrowtooth flounder, was 245,860 t or 11% of the total 2015 Alaska groundfish catch, down about 24% from 2014.

Pacific cod accounted for 321,100 t or 14.4% of the total 2015 Alaska groundfish catch. The Pacific cod catch was down about 4% from 2014.

Other important species (% of total 2015 catch and % change from 2014) are:  Atka mackerel 54,500 t (2.4%, up 70%), sablefish 11,690 t (.05%, down 5%), and rockfish 668,660 t (3%, up 6%).

Yellowfin Sole Publications, Poster Presentations, & Research Activities

  • NICHOL, D. G., S. KOTWICKI, T. K. WILDERBUER, R. R. LAUTH, and J. N. IANELLI. 2019. Availability of yellowfin sole Limanda aspera to the eastern Bering Sea trawl survey and its effect on estimates of survey biomass. Fish. Res. 211: 319-330.  Online.
  • SOMERTON, D., K. WEINBERG, P. MUNRO, L. RUGOLO, and T. WILDERBUER. 2017. The effects of wave-induced vessel motion on the geometry of a bottom survey trawl and the herding of yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera). Fish Bull., U.S. 116:21-33.  Online.
  • MATTA, M. E., T. E. HELSER, and B. A. BLACK. 2016. Otolith biochronologies reveal latitudinal differences in growth of Bering Sea yellowfin sole Limanda aspera. Polar Biol. 1-13.  Online.
  • KASTELLE, C. R., T. E. HELSER, S. G. WISCHNIOWSKI, T. LOHER, B. J. GOETZ, and L. A. KAUTZI. 2016. Incorporation of bomb-produced 14C into fish otoliths: a novel approach for evaluating age validation and bias with an application to yellowfin sole and northern rockfish. Ecol. Modell. 320:9-91.   Online.
  • Feeding Ecology and Niche Separation of Juvenile Northern Rock Sole and Yellowfin Sole in the Eastern Bering Sea (2011 poster)
    Conference:  International Flatfish Symposium, IJmuiden, the Netherlands, Nov 2011
    (2011 poster, .pdf, 1.83 MB)   Online.

  • Ontogenetic Migration of a Bering Sea Yellowfin Sole Revealed by Otolith δ18O Analysis Via Ion Microprobe
    Conference:  Western Groundfish Conference (16th), Juneau, AK., Apr 2010
    (2010 poster, .pdf, 582 KB)   Online.

  • Additional publications, posters, and reports.

(Sources: Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Area: Species Profiles 2001 and the 2005 North Pacific Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Reports for 2006.)

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