Sole, Dover sole, Common sole

Solea solea

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel: West
Stock detail — 7e
Picture of Sole, Dover sole, Common sole

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

Western English Channel sole is in a very good state, and fishing mortality is within sustainable levels. Management is generally in line with scientific advice, and there are technical measures such as limits to the number of days at sea for beam trawlers and static nets and a minimum mesh size of 80mm for towed gears. This fishery has a low level of discarding of unwanted fish. In terms of bycatch, plaice is also caught in this fishery and the minimum mesh size is not matched to the lower size limit for plaice, leading to a large number of plaice being discarded. Bottom trawling can damage seabed habitats, although otter trawling tends to be less damaging than beam trawling, and can also catch pink sea fans and other coral species, and skates and rays.


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 info

Stock Area

English Channel: West

Stock information

Spawning stock biomass (SSB) has increased since 2008 and in 2018 was 4,584 tonnes, well above MSY Btrigger (2,900t). Fishing mortality (F) has been below FMSY (0.29) since 2009; in 2018 it was 0.23, the highest level since 2008. Recruitment has been variable without a trend and is currently around the long-term average.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the Western Waters and adjacent waters is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges in the MAP are between 878 and 1685 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (1478 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, whilst the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule. This is a 16.2% increase in advice (equivalent to a 19% increase in Total Allowable Catch), owing to an increase in SSB and an upward revision in stock size.

The assessment is relatively uncertain because the historical perception of SSB and F changes between years.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

This stock is covered by the EU’s Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP). Since 2013, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) have been in line with or below the scientific advice, and landings have been in line with TACs (except in 2014). Official landings in 2018 were 1,074t, a 10.7% undershoot of the TAC (1,202t). Discards in that time have been low, at less than 10 tonnes per year, except in 2015 when it was 54t (amounting to 6.5% of total catch).

For sole in the Western Channel, as well as TACs, there are limits to the maximum number of days at sea for beam trawlers using mesh size greater than 80mm (222 days for the UK in 2018 and 2019) or static nets with mesh size up to 220mm (176 days for the UK in 2018 and 2019). The number of days is adjusted in proportion with adjustments in TACs. Mesh restrictions for towed gears are set to 80 mm codends, which correspond well with the minimum landing size of sole at 24 cm (25 cm for Belgian vessels since December 2017).

The landing obligation was phased in for different gears fishing for this stock from 2016, but in 2019 applies to the whole fishery. Given the low discards observed in the fishery the landing obligation is unlikely to have a significant impact on this stock or the advice.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota uplift being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Catch in 2018 was 1078 tonnes. Most of this (1,075t) was landed - discards in this fishery are low. Beam trawl accounted for 63% of landings, otter trawl, 19%, and gillnets, 13%. Of the 3 tonnes discarded, 96% was caught by otter trawl.

Plaice is taken as bycatch in this fishery, and therefore management advice for sole must also take into account the advice for plaice. Anglerfish, cuttlefish, and lemon sole are also important bycatches in this fishery.

Pink sea fans and other coral species, as well as skates and rays, can be impacted by demersal trawling in this area.

Bottom trawling can damage seabed habitats, although otter trawling tends to be less damaging than beam trawling. Measures to protect vulnerable inshore habitats exist on both side of the Channel. On the French side, trawling is banned inside 3 miles, although some derogations exist, e.g. for very small vessels or for pelagic trawlers - these are variable by area. On the UK side, fisheries inside 6 miles are subject to regulation by Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), the Southern, Devon and Severn, Cornish and Scilly IFCA in this case, who apply vessel size and power limits, as well as some inshore areas closed to towed gears.


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)


EU, 2019. Regulation (EU) 2019/472 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 March 2019 establishing a multiannual plan for stocks fished in the Western Waters and adjacent waters, and for fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1078 pp. doi: 10.17895/ Available at [Accessed on 15.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Sole (Solea solea) in Division 7.e (western English Channel). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, sol.27.7e, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4804, Available at [Accessed on 15.07.2019].

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, 2014. FishSource profile: Common sole, Western English Channel. Available at [Accessed 15.07.19].