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MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
This year’s yellowfin sole in Alaska’s Bering Sea fishery is about 200,000 metric tons, which is about the same as last year. The catch, however, is usually less than the quota due to bycatch issues and the 2 million-ton ecosystem catch cap in the Bering Sea. Last year, for example, Alaska trawlers landed about 147,000 metric tons of yellowfin. This year, as of late July catches were about 100,000 metric tons.
Most of the yellowfin sole caught off Alaska is exported. China is the main market. The bulk of the yellowfin sole exported to China is processed into skinless boneless fillets and exported to markets in the EU and North America. However, there is a growing market for domestic consumption of yellowfin sole in China, where it often consumed dried. Although not as big as China, South Korea imports significant quantities of yellowfin sole for its domestic market. Yellowfin pricing has been very stable in recent years. Last year, the U.S. imported about 7,500 metric tons of sole fillets from China, most of which is yellowfin sole. The average price to importers was $2.16/lb. This year, through May U.S. imports of yellowfin sole were 2,400 metric tons, off about a third from the same period last year. In spite of the drop in supply, the average price this year was $2.14/lb.
Yellowfin sole has a firm, delicate texture with small flakes and when cooked and a mild, sweet flavor. It is available throughout the year, primarily as frozen skinless, boneless fillets. Most yellowfin sole weighs less than a pound so it’s usually sold as thin two- to four-ounce fillets. It is almost always frozen H&G at sea and processed in China into fillets before being sold in the U.S. Quality of Pacific flatfish, including yellowfin sole, varies greatly so it’s important to look for unbruised fillets that have uniform color. Purchasing whole yellowfin sole should only be done if the buyer has a way to negotiate with the supplier since there can be a high percentage of soft-flesh fish.
Yellowfin sole may be substituted for rockfish.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Yellowfin sole is a type of flounder that is slow growing, long-lived and greatly affected by changing environmental conditions, making it vulnerable to fishing pressure. However, its wide distribution over much of the North Pacific helps counterbalance these traits somewhat.
Yellowfin sole, which is primarily harvested in the United States, is the largest flatfish fishery in Alaska due to its abundance. Although yellowfin sole was harvested heavily in the 1950s and ’60s, its population has recovered to above target levels.
Factory trawlers in the Bering Sea off Alaska are the primary means of catching yellowfin sole. Trawling tends to be highly destructive to seafloor habitats but yellowfin sole typically dwell in sandy, muddy bottom habitats that require little rebuilding to recover compared to rocky or reef areas.
Bycatch in the yellowfin sole fishery is considered low, and does not include overfished species. Restrictions are in place to keep bycatch low, and according to the Environmental Defense Fund, better gear design is helping trawlers avoid areas where bycatch will be more likely.
Successful management measures helped yellowfin sole reach high levels of abundance. Substantial fishery management measurements remain in place in the North Pacific, including close catch and bycatch monitoring, calculated catch limits, and independent population assessments.
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