The yellowtail is right-handed, and small mouthed like the winter, smooth, and witch flounder. It is distinguished from the winter by its more pointed snout, thin body, arched lateral line, and more numerous fin rays. The yellowtail is nearly one-half as broad as it is long, with an oval body, its eyes are set so close together that their rounded orbits almost touch each other. The scales are rough on the eyed side, but smooth on the blind side. The yellowtail is more constant in color, its eyed side is brownish or salty olive, tinged with reddish and marked with large irregular rusty red spots. The caudal fin and the margins of the two long fins are yellow, the yellow tail in particular being a very diagnostic character. It is a medium sized flatfish, males average 16 inches while females average 18 inches in length. A yellowtail 12 inches long weighs one-half pound, 15 inches weighs 1 pound, 18 inches weighs about two pounds. They keep to deeper water more than the winter or smooth flounder. Its upper limit may be 5 to 7 fathoms, but most are caught from 50-60 fathoms. Almost any sandy bottom suits them. The yellowtail feeds chiefly on the smaller crustaceans such as amphipods, shrimps, mysids, and bivalves, and on worms. The yellowtail does not take to the bottom until upward of 14mm long, whereas the winter flounder completes its metamorphosis when it is only 8 to 9mm long. Captures show the yellowtail grows to an average length of about 5 inches by it is one year old. It is found in North American continental waters, from the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Labrador side of the Straight of Belle Isle, northern Newfoundland, southward to the lower part of Chesapeake Bay. It is most plentiful on the western half of Georges Bank; in the inner western side of the Gulf of Maine; off Nantucket and southern New England. Spawning is throughout summer months, at both offshore as well as inshore locations. The yellowtail is one of the most valuable of the flatfishes caught. One of the major "groundfish" species commercially fished on the banks of the Western North Atlantic, the yellowtail has experienced a large population crash in the last decades due to overharvesting.
Check our Fish Slides database for photos and catch records.
Bigelow, Henry B., William C. Schroeder. 1953. Fishes of the Gulf of Maine. Fishery Bulletin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, vol 53, no. 74
Robins, C. Richard, Ray, G. Carleton, Douglass, John, 1986, A Field Guide to Atlantic Coast Fishes of North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston
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Taken on Georges Bank. 12 3/8 inches in length