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What is an American Sole?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

The American sole is a type of flatfish native to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, off the southeast coast of North America. This type of flatfish has little value to the commercial fishing industry, though it is edible and said to be tasty. American sole flatfish are sometimes kept as pets by aquarium hobbyists.

The American sole belongs to the family Achiridae, which includes at least nine genera. Twenty-eight distinct species of this fish can be found inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean. Some species live in freshwater, while others prefer brackish water. Most American soles, however, inhabit saltwater.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

These fish were formerly classified as Soleidae, the family that includes most species of flounder, but they were later reclassified when scientists realized that these flatfish don't possess all of the defining characteristics of the flounder. The American sole, unlike most species of flounder, lacks pectoral fins. The pelvic and tail fins of the American sole are generally fused together. Most scientists believe that American sole species have, in fact, a lineage distinct from that of members of the family Soleidae.

These western Atlantic flatfish are considered right-handed flatfish because they have both eyes located on the right side of their bodies. Immature American soles have eyes on either side of their bodies and swim upright, as most non-flatfish do. As these fish mature, the left eye moves to the right side of the body and the body itself flattens out, so that the fish begins to swim with the left side of its body downward, in the fashion of a typical flatfish.

These fish, like other soles, have spineless fins. The dorsal fin typically extends along the fish's entire body, from the tip of the head to the fused pectoral fin. The right side of the fish, where the eyes are located, may be olive green or brownish in color. These fish often have blotchy or irregular brown markings on an otherwise green body, and some species can control color changes in order to camouflage themselves. Narrow, vertical bands typically cross the right side of the American sole's body, while the left or underside is often white or pale in color.

American sole are not fished commercially, though many people consider them good to eat. They typically feed on small aquatic creatures, including worms, shrimp, and small fish. They can usually be kept as pets, if nourished on a live diet similar to that eaten by American soles in the wild.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an American Sole?

An American Sole, also known as the Pacific Dover Sole, is a flatfish species found along the Pacific coast of North America. It's scientifically named Microstomus pacificus and is known for its mild flavor and delicate texture, making it a popular choice for culinary dishes. They typically inhabit sandy or muddy sea floors at depths ranging from the intertidal zone to 1,200 meters.

How can you identify an American Sole?

The American Sole has a long, oval body with a small head and mouth. Its coloration varies from gray to brown, often with dark blotches or spots, which helps it camouflage with the ocean floor. The underside is typically lighter, ranging from white to yellowish. They have both eyes on the right side of their body, which is a common trait among flatfish.

What does the American Sole eat?

American Soles are bottom feeders, primarily consuming invertebrates such as worms, crustaceans, and small clams. Their diet reflects their habitat, as they forage for prey that lives in or on the sediment. They use their small mouths to suction up food, and their diet contributes to their subtle flavor profile.

Is the American Sole an important species for fisheries?

Yes, the American Sole is an important species for commercial fisheries, especially on the West Coast of the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it's part of a multi-species groundfish fishery managed under strict regulations to ensure sustainable harvest levels. The fishery uses methods like bottom trawling and is monitored for its impact on the ecosystem.

How do American Soles reproduce?

American Soles engage in a spawning process where females release eggs into the water column, and males fertilize them externally. Spawning typically occurs in offshore waters, and the larvae that hatch are planktonic, drifting with currents until they mature and settle to the bottom. This reproductive strategy helps ensure a wide dispersal of their offspring.

What are the conservation concerns for American Soles?

While American Soles are not currently listed as endangered, they face threats from overfishing and habitat destruction. Conservation efforts focus on managing fishery practices and monitoring populations to prevent decline. Marine protected areas and regulations on fishing gear are also in place to minimize environmental impact and bycatch of non-target species.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy