- Scientific name: Pleuronectes platessa
- Also known as: European Plaice
- Size: Up to 26 inches and 10lb (UK shore caught typically 1-3lb)
- UK minimum size: 11in/28cm in length
- UK shore caught record: 8lb 6oz
- IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
- Distribution: Found from spring to early autumn on muddy, sandy and shingle seabeds throughout UK and Irish waters. Also present throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
- Feeds on: Feeds mostly on marine worms, crustaceans and shellfish.
- Description: Right eyed flatfish. Colour is usually brownish but can be greyish or greenish. Skin is fairly smooth with small scales and speckled with noticeable orange dots. Has a distinctive ridge of four to seven distinctive bony bumps running across the back of the head. The underside is white.
Plaice are most commonly caught by shore anglers between March and September as they spend the colder winter months in deeper water far out at sea where they spawn. When the sea temperature begins to warm up in the spring plaice move into shallower inshore water and within range of the shore angler. The first plaice to arrive are often skinny and undernourished, having spent the winter in cold, deep water where they have fed little. These early season fish can be keen to take a bait and will feed at all times on a wide variety of food sources. As the summer goes on plaice will fatten up and become more selective about the sources of food they take. Eventually, once the autumn begins plaice will make their way back to offshore waters and prepare to spawn over the winter, repeating the migratory process. During the spring and summer months plaice are often found in estuaries and can survive quite a low salinity content of water, although not to the same extent as flounder and they will not travel up rivers in the same way that flounder do. Being a flatfish plaice prefer sandy or muddy seabeds, but they can also be found in small sandy patches between mixed and rocky ground.
Commercial Value and Reputation as a Food Fish
Plaice are highly valued as a food fish. Along with cod and haddock they are the fish most commonly used in the classic British dish of fish and chips and are a regular feature on the menus at restaurants and pubs. Due to its high reputation as a food fish plaice has been heavily targeted by commercial fishing vessels in the past. However, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) states that the worst years for over-fishing plaice were in the 1970s and 1980s, and since then the commercial fishing pressure on plaice has actually reduced. In some areas plaice are increasing in numbers and the IUCN now class plaice as a species of Least Concern on a global basis, although in some areas such as the Mediterranean stocks are in a much worse state and they are classed as Near Threatened. Greenpeace has also put plaice on their fish Redlist due to the damaging and unselective methods which are used to catch this species.
Plaice are often confused with flounder by inexperienced sea anglers or those who have not learned the main differences between the two species. One of the most noticeable differences is that plaice have around seven bony bumps running across the back of the head, from the eyes to the gill cover which is absent on flounder. A full guide to UK flatfish identification can be found here. To further complicate things plaice/flounder hybrids known as ‘plounders’ exist in Norwegian and Danish waters and can sometimes be found in the UK leading to further confusion with identifying these species. As well as the European plaice there are several other species commonly known as plaice throughout the world. These include the American plaice (Hippoglossoides platessoides), the Alaskan plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus) and the scale-eye placie (Acanthopsetta nadeshnyi). The only one of these three additional species found in UK waters is the American plaice. It is, however, a rare fish, and is confusingly also referred to as the long rough dab.
Methods and Techniques to Catch Plaice
Most anglers begin the catch plaice in the spring, as they begin to return from spawning in offshore waters. Plaice caught at this time of year can be thin and in poor condition due to the effort of migrating, but once they begin to feed their weight increases and the condition improves. Although they are a small fish, usually (growing to a maximum of just over two feet with most being substantially smaller than this) plaice are aggressive little predators and will take most of the common sea fishing baits. Anglers fishing for plaice will often use relatively light equipment such as a bass rod or a specialist flatfish rod. Open surf beaches are a good place to find plaice, with many anglers using plain weights that roll around on the seabed to find the gullies or depressions that will hold food and therefore feeding plaice. Plaice are not known to come into very shallow water in the way that flounder are, and baits will usually have to be in at least a few metres of water to catch plaice. Sandy outcrops next to rocky areas are also good areas to target plaice, especially if there are shellfish beds nearby. Plaice will take all of usual sea baits but worms account for the majority of catches – ragworm and blow lugworm are the obvious choices, but harbour ragworm (maddies) are also an excellent plaice bait. Adding peeler crab or mussel to any worm bait can also increase catches, although anglers should make sure baits are not too big as the mouth of the plaice is fairly small.
Like the similar founder, plaice are inquisitive and are therefore attracted to sequins and beads on the hooklengths, with many anglers believing that alternating black and green beads are the best colour to attract plaice. If fishing in daylight adding a long strip of squid, or a shiny piece of mackerel belly can be used as this will flow and flutter in the tide and add an additional visual attraction to the bait. Hooking ragworm so that their tail wriggles around on the seabed is another tactic that can be used to catch plaice, while tipping off hooks with maddies or white ragworm are tactics used by competition anglers looking to catch a potentially match-winning fish. Many anglers use rigs with two hook flapping or three hook flapping rigs and include a different bait on each one to try and tempt plaice. Using long shanked hooks – such as these specialist flatfish hooks from Sea Angling Shop – is a good idea when fishing for flatfish as they are easier to remove from the mouth of a flatfish.
Although plaice stocks have been under pressure they have been making something of a recovery in recent years. In order to help this continue anglers should ensure all plaice are over the minimum size limit of 28cm or even better over 30cm (so they have definitely had a chance to spawn) if they are to be retained for consumption. Plaice are great to eat, although it takes some practice to successfully fillet a flatfish.