- Scientific name: Limanda limanda
- Also known as: Common Dab
- Size: Up to 18ins and 3lb. UK shore caught typically well under 1lb.
- UK minimum size: 20cms/8ins
- UK shore caught record: 2lb 9oz
- IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
- Distribution: Common over clear seabeds all around the UK, but particularly common in the North Sea with its range extending into Scandinavian waters.
- Feeds on: Marine worms, prawns, molluscs, shellfish and small crustaceans.
- Description: Small right-eyed flatfish. Sandy brown colour with faint orange spots and black or dark brown flecks. Underside is white, occasionally with a bluish tinge. Skin is rough. Noticeable curve to lateral line.
- Additional notes: The long rough dab is a separate species.
Dab are a common flatfish all around the UK, but are at their most abundant in the North Sea. They will live over sandy, muddy and to a lesser extend shingle seabeds down to a maximum of around 100 metres deep. Dab are a small fish and one approaching a pound is a good catch from the shore. They are, however, numerous and good to eat, meaning that many anglers can have an entertaining fishing session catching many dab. Dab feed mostly on marine worms and small crustaceans, prawns and molluscs. They will also feed on dead or rotting fish. See the article on flatfish identification to see the main difference between dab and other flatfish found in British waters.
Dab as a Commercial Fish
Dab were not highly rated as a commercial fish and were often disposed of when caught as bycatch by trawlers. However, recent years have seen people catch on to how good dab are as a food fish, and many celebrity chefs have boosted the sales of dab by using this species in their recipes. Campaigns to reform the wasteful Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of Europe have also seen campaigns launched to encourage people to eat more dab as this will take pressure off the overfished stocks of species like cod and haddock. Creating a market for this fish will also increase its value and make commercial fishermen land the dab they catch, rather than throw it away as unwanted bycatch. Dab’s growing reputation as a table fish is helped by the fact that it can be grilled, baked or fried, and because dab is so small it is often cooked whole with the head and fins still attached – another plus point as filleting flatfish is a lot more tricky than filleting a roundfish.
Reproduction and Spawning
Dab spawn in the spring when the sea temperatures being to rise. Eggs hatch after about ten days and, like most flatfish species the young are the same shape as roundfish until they are around an inch in length when they transform into their flatfish shape and live the rest of their life on the seabed. Dab can reproduce within two years when they are only fifteen centimetres long. This early reproduction explains why dab are so numerous in UK waters and stocks are robust.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Dab
Dab will feed in calm, settled seas and in both daylight and darkness, making them a regular and reliable catch for the sea angler. A sandy surf beach offers the best chance of catching decent numbers of dab, but small sandy outcrops in the middle of rocky areas can also contain dab. Dab can be found in estuaries – sometimes in high numbers – but unlike flatfish such as flounder they cannot tolerate brackish water with low salinity levels and are therefore not found along rivers or far inland.
On sandy beaches dab will often gather in a shoal around a gully or indentation in the seabed which has attracted debris and small creatures which the dab will feed on. Locating a feature such as this can be the key to catching dab. Due to the small size of the dab’s mouth hooks sized 2 – 4 need to be used and baits should be correspondingly small. Like flounder the dab can move into very shallow water, particularly under the cover of darkness, meaning that short cast are sometimes all that is needed to put a bait among the feeding fish. However, dab can begin to move further out with the tide as it goes out, so anglers should try casting a further distance as the tide ebbs.
When it comes to bait dab are not fussy and will take all baits if they are feeding. Ragworm and lugworm are popular baits when fishing for this species, as is mackerel, mussels, squid strip and especially black lugworm. While the importance fresh bait is stressed in sea fishing this goes out of the window with dab – they are known to prefer stale and past-their-best baits. Black lugworm which has been left out of refrigeration for a while is often seen as the best dab bait, but mackerel or herring strip that has turned a bit smelly is also good. Cocktail baits are also effective when dab fishing. Peeler crab can account for some of the better specimens but few anglers will waste such a valuable and expensive bait fishing for a species as small and unfussy as the dab.