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Sanddab, Pacific
Citharichthys sordidus

sanddab

©B.Guild/ Charting Nature, www.chartingnature.com

COMMON NAMES

  • Melgrim
  • Mottled sanddab
  • Soft flounder

BONY MESS OR TASTY TREAT?

The Pacific sanddab has an outstanding nutty flavor and moist texture, it is plentiful on the West Coast, and is easy to catch. Why, then, is this seemingly amazing fish not on the menu of every seafood-selling restaurant in the country? The slender body and low weight paints a bony and messy picture. However, if the feather bones (the sets of bones on both sides of the fish) are trimmed prior to cooking, the result is a fairly simple-to-eat flatfish. The only job left for the table is lifting the top fillet, removing the central set of bones and enjoying a boneless meal.

Sandab – along with flounder, sole, turbot, plaice, and halibut – is a type of flatfish found along the U.S. west coast. Of the four sanddab species in the Pacific, C. sordidus is the largest. They commonly grow to 25 cm long, although some may reach 40 cm. The species ranges from the eastern Gulf of Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. Compared to other flatfishes, Pacific sanddabs mature relatively quickly (2-3 years) and have a shorter lifespan (10-13 years). These lifecycle characteristics can be an asset in helping a population recover from, or protect against, fishing pressure and other factors.

Pacific sanddabs prefer sandy bottom habitats less than 150 meters deep, although they are known to inhabit waters as deep as 500 meters. Fishermen off the U.S. west coast target this species and also catch them as bycatch in the commercial bottom trawl fishery. Now that Washington State and California prohibit bottom trawling in state waters, Pacific sanddabs are caught either in state waters off Oregon or in federal waters off all three West Coast states. Overall, catches of flatfish in the West Coast trawl fishery are at their lowest levels since 1950 due to strict restrictions on the fishery to protect overfished rockfish.

CONSERVATION NOTES

Very little is known about the biology and status of Pacific sanddabs. Fishery biologists have not assessed the abundance of Pacific sanddabs, or the abundances of eight of the twelve other managed flatfish species in the West Coast flatfish fishery. With landings relatively stable, fishery managers have assumed that the fishery is operating at a sustainable level.

Incidental catch of rockfishes in the West Coast groundfish fisheries is a serious concern as rockfishes are severely depleted in that region. Because they mature late and are long lived, rockfish species are extremely slow to recover from overfishing. Consequently, fishery managers have reduced allowable catches of flatfish and many areas are now closed to bottom trawling.

IN SEASON

  • Available year-round

PRODUCT FORM

FRESH:

  • Whole
  • Headed and gutted
  • Dressed (head-on, boneless)

FROZEN:

  • Headed and gutted
  • Dressed (head-on, boneless)
  • Skinless fillet

BUYING TIPS

  • The quality of all flatfish, including sanddabs, varies greatly; the highest-quality fillets should have uniform color and no bruising.
  • Sanddabs are an ocean-friendly alternative to Atlantic flounders.

ASSOCIATIONS

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA)
P.O. Box 29370, San Francisco, CA 94129, Phone: 415-561-5080, Fax: 415-561-5464, Web Site: www.pcffa.org, Email: fishlifr@aol.com · A federation of port and fishermen’s associations from San Diego to Alaska, assuring fishermen’s rights and fighting for the survival of commercial fishing as a way of life.