The speckled brill -sea-bed chameleon

The speckled brill -sea-bed chameleon

A member of the large, broad-bodied tur-bot family, the brill can easily be confused with its bigger relative. The most convenient way of telling the two apart I s by their skin – the brill has small, smooth scales while the turbot is scaleless and covered in bony tubercles.

The brill is smaller and more rounded in shape than the turbot, though to add to the confusion hybrids between the two are occasionally found, some of them capable of producing offspring of their own.

A left-eyed flatfish (like the turbot and the topknot), the brill is sandy brown to grey on its upper side, with both lighter and darker speckles scattered all over it. Like all flatfish, its skin colour varies depending on the area of the sea bed on which it is found. Each skin cell can expand and contract to vary the amount of pigment visible. Normally the blind side is white but, as in other flatfish, it occasionally has darker blotches here and there.

Frilly edges

The first few rays of the dorsal fin are branched and partly free from the fin membrane, giving the brill a frilly appearance. The dorsal and anal fins are long, but neither continues around the thick-wristed tail. Another feature is the brill’s lateral line which, like that of the turbot, is strongly arched over the pectoral fin.

Any time, any place

Not fussy, brill can be found on sandy, gravelly, shelly and muddy sea beds in water between 10-70m (33-230ft) deep. They are sometimes found around natural reefs and wrecks, and prefer a strong tidal current. Tolerant of brackish water, brill are occasionally found in estuaries too.

Adult fish prey mostly on other fish, especially sandeels. They are active hunters and eat large quantities of whiting, squid, gobies and crustaceans, making easy work of prey with their large, powerful mouth and pointed teeth.

Life-cycle

Brill spawn in early summer in shallow water between 10-20m (33-66ft) deep. The eggs float among the plankton, hatching a week to ten days later. The young fish is symmetrical in shape and stays on the sea surface until it is about 2.5cm (lin) long.

At this point the right eye starts moving over to sit with the left. By the time it has acquired the familiar flatfish shape, the young brill has come to rest on the sea bed. It remains in relatively shallow water for up to two years, often inhabiting intertidal pools on sandy shores while it is still very small.

Although not as commercially important as the turbot, brill are tasty fish. They are more prolific off the south and south-western coasts of the British Isles, but are not at all common anywhere. Unfortunately, numbers seem to be in decline, probably because of trawler overfishing in their limited spawning areas. The minimum legal size brill you can keep is 30cm (12in) long.

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