There is a growing movement and interest in informing the public about this tasty, versatile and sustainable fish. Aquaculturists, fish company owners, commercial fishermen and restauranteurs widely agree the mullet is a largely under-appreciated and highly sustainable food source—a much-needed one as global populations rise.
Florida currently imports $2.6 billion of seafood every year. This statistic surprises people—especially considering one of the things many people visit Florida for is to enjoy is our fresh seafood. One contributor, in the case of mullet, is that the fish’s roe currently demands a higher price than the meat. Mullet is not an imported fish, yet it remains an underutilized as a food fish in favor of more popular options. Other sources of this deficit are the relative lower price of imported seafood vs. domestic/wild caught fish.
Net bans/restrictions have played a role in the industry over the years. The size of the mesh allowed makes legal-size nets less effective at capturing fish than what was previously allowed. The larger size mesh crosses over into what are called gill nets, which were banned because they were injuring fish that got caught along with mullet. These gill nets also allowed fishermen to catch too many mullet, which was damaging to their populations. Today’s seine nets have a 2-inch maximum mesh, and are generally supplemented by cast nets.
The mullet of Florida are the best-tasting—as they live in sandy bottom waters rather than muddy bottoms. This vastly affects the taste, causing the popularity of the fish to vary significantly from region to region.
The mullet fisherman’s tool of choice is a custom-built, skiff-like craft with some very distinct design modifications you won’t find on your family runabout. Typically 20-22 feet, these boats are, in most cases, built by hand by the fishermen themselves. Let’s take a closer look.
Click a marker above to learn about the boat and its anatomy.
Sides: Flared sides deflect spray, especially necessary with blunt bow designs.
Motor: Most are outboard powered, with the engine mounted roughly 5 feet from the bow. This keeps the transom clear for working nets and allows the boat to turn sharply and able to rotate—helpful when working nets.
Well: Large interior well keeps catch iced and fresh. Anywhere from 500-1000 pounds of ice is needed to accommodate several hundred pounds of mullet.
Tower: Many fishermen add towers, allowing them to sight schools of mullet from greater distances.
Launch: When setting nets, an additional, smaller launch is often piggybacked on board for use at the net site.
Hook and line, spears, gigs, seine, cast net
Spearfishing mullet in fresh water prohibited, also any commercial net with a mesh of larger than 2 inches
Mullet are found throughout the state in coastal rivers, tidal creeks, bays, estuaries and along sandy beaches. Because they feed primarily on algae, detritus and other tiny marine invertebrates, catching mullet by hook and line requires a tiny hook and a great deal of patience. For this reason, mullet are primarily harvested by cast nets and haul seines. Mullet swim in large schools and are frequent jumpers, so it’s often easy to identify their locations by simply watching for jumping fish. Mullet also have excellent vision and plenty of speed to avoid a cast net, making them difficult to catch in clear water. Mullet are a primary prey for many predatory species. Their food value ranges from moderate to excellent depending on their location of harvest and personal preference. Mullet have a very high oil content so they are excellent for smoking.