Sole, Dover sole, Common sole

Solea solea

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea
Stock detail — 4.b, c

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

Picture of Sole, Dover sole, Common sole

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

The stock assessment in 2018 indicated the biomass of common sole in the North Sea was healthy yet fishing mortality a little above the level associated with the Maximum Sustainable Yield (FMSY). The Hastings Fleet Dover sole fishery and the Cooperative Fishery Organisation (CVO) North Sea plaice and sole fishery were certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as environmentally responsible or sustainable fisheries in July 2009 and December 2012 respectively. Avoid eating immature sole (less than 30cm) and fresh (not previously frozen) fish caught during the breeding season (April-June).


Sole is a right-eyed flatfish (eyes on the right hand side of the body) and belongs to the family of flatfishes known as Soleidae. It spawns in spring and early summer in shallow coastal water, from April to June in the southern North Sea, from May-June off the coast of Ireland and southern England, and as early as February in the Mediterranean. Common sole become sexually mature at 3-5 years, when 25-35cm long, the males being somewhat smaller than the females. It can attain lengths of 60-70cm and weigh 3kg.The maximum reported age is 26 years. Sole is a nocturnal predator and therefore more susceptible to capture by fisheries at night than in daylight.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Stock Area

North Sea

Stock information

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has increased since 2007 and has been estimated at above MSY Btrigger since 2012. Fishing mortality (F) has declined since 1999 and is close to FMSY in 2017. Recruitment (R) has fluctuated without trend since the early 1990s, but without the large year classes that occurred in the preceding period.
ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is above FMSY but within the EU Multiannual Plan (MAP) range and below Fpa and Flim; and spawning-stock size is above MSY Btrigger, BMGT, Bpa, and Blim.
ICES advises that when the proposed MAP for the North Sea is applied, catches in 2019 should be between 7451 tonnes and 21 644 tonnes, but according to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (12 801 tonnes) can only be taken under certain conditions.


Criterion score: 0 info

The EU adopted a management plan for flatfish in the North Sea in June 2007 which has been evaluated by ICES as precautionary. The EU is finalising a multi-annual plan for the North Sea. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (12 801 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Gillnets can be very size selective for the target fish but can be unselective at the species level for both non-target fish and for mammals, birds and turtles. Harbour porpoise are highly prone to bycatch in bottom-set gillnets used to catch demersal species such as cod, turbot, hake, saithe, sole, skate and dogfish and tangle net fisheries used to capture flat fish and crustaceans, due largely to their feeding habits on or near the seabed. Porpoises are generally taken as single animals. The number taken ranges from 1 in 20 hauls for skate to 1 in 54 hauls for cod. High levels of Harbour porpoise bycatch have been recorded in the Celtic and North Sea. In areas where population levels of cetaceans are very low, such as the Baltic and the southern North Sea/Eastern Channel, even a very low level of bycatch is extremely serious in conservation terms. EU Regulation 821/2004 requires all community fishing vessels, greater than or equal to 12 metres, using drift, gill and tangle nets to use pingers - acoustic devices to deter marine mammal entanglement in nets. It also requires Member States to introduce observer schemes to monitor cetacean bycatch in certain fisheries, most notably in pelagic trawls, and the phase out of driftnet fisheries in the Baltic Sea. However, despite the pinger requirement coming into force in June 2005 in the North Sea, January 2006 in the Western Channel and January 2007 in the Eastern Channel, the UK fleet (along with the majority of European vessels) is still not applying this provision. The reason given is that the pingers available present too many practical and health and safety problems. This means that in the UK there are still no mitigation measures in place to reduce what is likely to remain the main conservation and welfare problem affecting cetaceans around our coasts. Other measures that maybe adopted to reduce the number of marine mammal causalities include reducing the length of the net and soak time, i.e. the period of time the net is in the sea. Because of their durability, nets are made of nylon; if lost the net can continue to fish, a phenomenon known as ‘ghost fishing’. Avoid eating immature sole (less than 30cm) and fresh (not previously frozen) fish caught during the breeding season (April-June).


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Halibut, Atlantic (Farmed)
Halibut, Pacific
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
Sole, Lemon
Turbot (Caught at sea)
Turbot (Farmed)


ICES 2018. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Greater North Sea Ecoregion. Published 29 June 2018. Available at: (Accessed July 2018)