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Date of Issue: December 16, 2009

Mullet fishers see improved catch, lower prices

Plying the waters
Looking toward Bradenton Beach from their boat at the Seafood Shack marina near the Cortez Bridge, Barbara and husband Don Capron enjoyed a closeup view of the congregation of mullet fishers working their trade.
Islander Photo: Courtesy Barbara Capron .

Steve Parker represents the fourth generation of his family working in the Cortez fishing village, and he’s seen decades of mullet seasons.

But few have been as tough as this season.

Parker has received 60 cents for a pound of red mullet roe, and until last week, action had been slow. But the mullet run is on now.

“I mean, back in 1995 we were getting $2.60 before the net ban,” Parker said of the price paid to fishers for mullet roe before the statewide ban on gill nets. “Actually, it was the second day after the net ban when the price really went up high, then the prices turned around and went back down. Now it’s nothing.”

He said he’s getting only 10 cents a pound for white roe.

Karen Bell, office manager at A.P. Bell Fish Co. and owner of the Star Fish Co. market and restaurant in Cortez, said demand is low.

“We just don’t really have a buyer for sure yet,” Bell said. “It’s kind of a scary way to buy stuff. Mostly it’s exported, but we’ll just do the best we can.”

She said that Africa and China have recently had exceptional harvests of roe.

Mullet fishermen typically spend six to eight hours on the water to bring back 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of mullet, according to Bell.

The workers may be fishing until 2 a.m., shoveling ice into buckets and mending holes in nets.

“They have to see when the fish are bunched together and that’s when they target the mullet,” Bell said. “They just touch base with each other.”

The fish are harvested by throwing cast nets from a boat into a mullet school, and it takes many successful attempts to gather enough mullet to make a paycheck.

The mullet roe must be rinsed, put in tube-shaped bags and weighed into 5-pound boxes.

Parker, who takes his roe to A.P. Bell Fish Co., hopes ideal weather conditions line up soon.

“We need a good nor’wester [wind],” he said. “Some good rain and a little lightning, and when the wind comes from the northwest and starts blowing 20-25, the barometer starts dropping, that’s what helps the mullet lay eggs — the barometric pressure — especially on a full moon.”