Mullet


Mullet are members of the Mugilidae family, a group of roughly 70 species whose members range worldwide. All are good food fish, and the roe is considered a delicacy. Mullet are important forage for many predator species.

Identification

The striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) is bluish-gray or green along the back, shading to silver on the sides and white below. Also known as the black mullet, or fatback, it has indistinct horizontal black bars, or stripes, on its sides; the fins are lightly scaled at the base and unscaled above; the nose is blunt and the mouth small; and the second dorsal fin originates behind that of the anal fin. It is similar to the smaller fantail mullet (M. gyrans) and the white mullet (M. curema), both of which have a black blotch at the base of their pectoral fins, which is lacking in the striped mullet.

Size

The striped mullet may reach a length of 3 feet and weigh as much as 12 pounds, although the largest specimens have come from aquariums. Roe specimens in the wild are common to 3 pounds, but most striped mullet weigh closer to a pound. The fantail mullet is small and usually weighs less than a pound. The white mullet is similar in size to the fantail.

Life history/Behavior

Mullet are schooling fish found inshore in coastal environs. Many species have the unusual habit of leaping from the water with no apparent cause. Adult striped mullet migrate offshore in large schools to spawn. Fantail mullet spawn in near-shore or inshore waters during the spring and the summer. White mullet spawn offshore, and the young migrate into estuaries and along beaches.

Food and feeding habits

Mullet feed on algae, detritus, and other tiny marine forms; they pick up mud from the bottom and strain plant and animal material from it through their sievelike gill rakers and pharyngeal teeth.

Distribution

The striped mullet is cosmopolitan in all warm seas worldwide and is the only member of the mullet family found off the Pacific coast of the United States. The fantail mullet occurs in the western Atlantic in Bermuda and from Florida and the northern Gulf of Mexico to Brazil. The white mullet is found in the western Atlantic in Bermuda and from Massachusetts south to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, and in the eastern Pacific from the Gulf of California, Mexico, to Iquique, Chile.
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