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What are Turbot?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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The turbot, Scophthalmidae Psetta maxima is a flatfish native to the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas. They are valued as a food delicacy, and are hunted in large quantities in Coastal waters. Recent farms have been created around the globe to raise turbot for commercial marketing.

Turbot are flatfish, having an asymmetric but mostly round and thin body that blends in well with the ocean floor. They are often referred to as “left-sided,” as their eyes are on the left side of their head. Most purchasable Turbot weigh only a few pounds but specimens can reach up to 50 lbs (22 kg.). They have a speckled appearance to help them camouflage, and do not have scales.

The flesh of the flatfish is a bright white color, which does not usually darken with cooking. They are prized for their delicate flavor, and are common in European cuisine. Since 1970, turbot have been farmed along coastal waters, both near their native habitats and in foreign countries such as Chile and China.

In the 1990s, a dispute over fishing practices lead to an incident known as the Turbot War. After cod fishing was banned due to severely depleted stocks, nations began fishing heavily for the plentiful flatfish, which exist in massive numbers in Canadian waters. Canada’s government quickly became furious that its territorial waters were being used by illegal vessels that often employed fishing equipment that did not meet Canadian standards.

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In 1995, Canadian Coast Guard and naval support chased an illegal Spanish fishing ship called the Estai for hundreds of miles before capturing the boat and placing the crew under arrest. Canada obtained proof that illegal equipment was being used, by discovering a substandard net that crewmembers of the Estai had cut during the chase. Although the crew and ship were later released under pressure from the United Nations, Canada used the evidence to admonish foreign governments for illegal activity.

While population of the turbot appears stable in the wild, the future survival of the species will depend heavily on past lessons learned by the fishing industry. The Atlantic Ocean has been subjected to incredible levels of over-fishing since the 19th century, leading to the severe reduction, and in some cases extinction, of many fish species. The almost complete destruction through over-fishing of the Atlantic Cod population led to total devastation of many fish industries in Canada and the North-Eastern United States.

Turbot are found in many cuisines, with common recipes involving boiling, poaching or frying the fish to bring out its delicate flavor. If you wish to try eating this fish, be sure to find out the method in which the fish are caught. Supporting industries that uphold sustainable fishing practices is an excellent way to enjoy the foods you like while ensuring that no damage is done to the ecosystem or environment.

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