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Date of Issue: December 03, 2008

Fishers await mullet run

For recreational fishers, the fall mullet run can be a smoking good time.

For commercial fishers, the fall mullet run can be do or die.

Mullet are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters, including Florida’s bays and estuaries and along the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The primary fishery for Florida mullet is the Gulf.

Mullet — dark bluish on the top and silver on the sides — feed on aquatic plant and algae, swim in large schools and run in the waters in the late fall, when the fish migrate from the back bays to the deeper waters to spawn.

Islanders will know when mullet are fat with fish eggs and on the run because castnetters will multiply by large numbers on Anna Maria’s north end and dozens a day will launch boats from the ramps at Coquina Beach.

“They’re not quite ready to be caught yet,” said Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez. “There are some that have roe in them, but no, they’re not ready yet.”

The run traditionally lasts until late December or early January and is influenced by cold fronts over the Gulf of Mexico.

Though no part of the mullet is discarded at A.P Bell, Bell said it’s the roe that is the fisher’s prize. There is a lucrative market for the roe in Europe and east Asia.

Bell said the market for the roe is not strong in the United States because of the price, not the taste.

The mullet roe also has cultural value in east Asia, where it is given as a gift to celebrate the new year. The U.S. custom is to eat black-eyed peas on new year’s day for good luck; the custom in east Asia is to eat mullet roe on new year’s eve for fortune and prosperity.

In more recent years, Bell’s company has sold its roe to a distributor in Italy for the European market.