Witch

Witch
  • Scientific name: Glyptocephalus cynoglossus
  • Also known as: Torbay Sole, Witch Flounder, Grey Flounder
  • Size: Up to 2ft and 5lbs
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: 1lb 2oz
  • IUCN Status: NE (Not Evaluated)
  • Distribution: Found in deep water all around Europe and also off the North American coast.
  • Feeds on: Crustaceans, starfish and marine invertebrates.
  • Description: Oval, right-eyed flatfish with small head and mouth and prominent eyes. Light brown to greenish grey in colour with fins generally darker than the rest of the body. Underside is pale to white.  Skin is quite rough to the touch. Lateral line is completely straight. Eyes and fins can appear black.

The witch is a deep-sea flatfish which lives in waters down to over one thousand metres deep, generally over sandier and muddy seabeds. The fact that this fish lives in such deep water means it is very seldom encountered by shore anglers, although there is a UK shore caught record.

Distribution

Witch are found across the north Atlantic. In European waters they present around the British Isles and can be found eastwards as far as the Barents Sea, although being predominatly a cold-water fish their range does not extend southwards much further than the English Channel. Their distribution continues across the to the waters of Iceland and Greenland, and they are also found on the eastern coasts of America and Canada.

Commercial Value

Commercially caught witch

Commercially caught witch.

Witch is a commercially important species. Approximately 15,000 tons of witch are taken from European fisheries every year with British vessels accounting for around 4000 tons of this total catch. US and Canadian commercial fishing operations also catch around 3000 tons of this species. In Europe it is much more popular than it is in the UK, meaning that much of the witch caught in British waters is exported. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes witch as a species of Least Concern, although there are issues around the damaging bottom trawling methods which are used to catch this species, and a large number of witch may be discarded as bycatch by commercial vessels which are targeting other species.

Witch is afflicted by the common problem of UK consumers shying away from eating species they are unfamiliar with and sticking to consuming the big five species. For this reason witch is sometimes referred to as Torbay sole. This appears to be an attempt to ‘re-brand’ witch and associate it with the more commonly eaten (and expensive) Dover sole – read our article on re-branding and re-naming fish species by clicking here. The lefteye flounder (Arnoglossus scapha) found in the Pacific Ocean around China, Australia and New Zealand is also called witch, although it is only distantly related to the species known as witch in European waters.

Witch Caught on Rod and Line

As a deep water species witch is a very rare catch on a rod and line, and the vast majority of anglers in the UK would have difficulty identifying this species if they caught one. There is, however, a shore caught record, a specimen of 1lb 2oz caught by T. J. Barathy in Colwyn Bay, Wales in 1967. Strangely for a deep water fish the boat caught record is vacant, with the qualifying weight set at 12oz. It is likley that witch of this size or larger have been caught by boat anglers but misidentified as another species.

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