With its tasty flesh, the turbot is highly sought after by anglers and commercial fishermen alike. As one of the largest members of the flatfish family, the turbot can attain weights of up to 55 lb (25kg), with all of the largest specimens being female. However, a 15 lb (6.8kg) fish from a boat can be considered a good specimen. Shore specimens are much smaller.
The turbot is a left-eyed flatfish. It has a broad, almost circular body and a large mouth containing numerous pointed teeth. The first few rays of the dorsal fin are branched with just the tips remaining free from the membrane, but it does not have the untidy frill-like appearance seen in the brill.
The turbot’s skin colour varies to match the conditions of the sea bed; generally though, it is sandy brown with a heavy smattering of darker spots. These spots extend on to the tail fin. The body is scaleless, but carries large, bony tubercles irregularly strewn over its back – their presence is the easiest method of telling this fish from the brill. Although it can be found all around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, the turbot is at the extreme of its range here. Before the 1970s most specimen fish came from traditional sandbank marks in the English Channel – until they became overfished.
With wreck fishing trips in their infancy in the 1970s, skippers soon discovered that when they were blown off their mark, turbot were found on the sand scours built up alongside wrecks. This soon meant that the rod and line turbot record jumped several times in the next decade, reaching a weight of 32 lb 4oz (14.5kg) in 1976.
Since those heady record-breaking days, the number of rod and line specimens has decreased. Never sufficiently abundant to satisfy demand, the turbot is one of the more promising species being researched for intensive culture fish-farming for future generations.
Spawning takes place on specific sites during the spring and summer months. Turbot in northern European waters breed over gravel in depths of 10-40m (30-130ft). The female produces up to 10 million eggs which hatch within a week to ten days. Both the eggs and larvae are pelagic (living in the upper layers of the sea). At the larval stage the fish carries a distinctive swim bladder which it loses when it begins life on the sea bed.
The pelagic stage may continue for four to six months; this helps the young fish disperse from their few restricted spawning grounds. Having drifted into shallow water, young turbot eat planktonic crustaceans, but once settled on the sea bed they feed mainly on the young of other fish species -haddock, whiting, pouting, sandeels and dragonets.