Mullet, Grey, Thicklip

Chelon labrosus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Ripping
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Cornwall
Stock detail — Manacles Reef
Picture of Mullet, Grey, Thicklip

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Grey mullet are slow-growing, slow to mature sexually and only a proportion of the stock breeds in any one year. Little information is available on abundance due to lack of scientific data.

Biology

Grey mullet belong to a large family, which comprises some 80 species of marine fish, known as Muglidae, and is a common inhabitant of marine coastal waters in Europe. The thick-lipped grey mullet is the commonest of three species which occur in northern European waters. They are slow-growing, long-lived and late-maturing fish. Maximum length 75 cm, weight 4.5 kg and a reported age of up to 25 years. Maturity occurs at about 9 years (42 cm) for males and 11 years (47 cm) for females. Only a proportion of the stock is believed to breed in any year. Thicklipped mullet are thought to spawn on alternate years.

Stock information

Stock Area

Cornwall

Stock information

Stock status is unknown as there is no formal stock assessment and no evaluation of stocks by ICES in the north east Atlantic. Evidence from long-standing members of the National Mullet Club (NMC) is that mullet stocks have declined in many areas and members are finding mullet harder to find and often have to travel further to obtain reasonable levels of sport. NMC catch statistics suggest mullet stocks are in gradual long-term decline and do not benefit from adequate protection at present. Reported catches were down from 1353 in 2013 to 1070 in 2014 with the exact same number of members reporting. Marine Management Organisation (MMO) landings data show a continuing but steady decline in UK landings since 2010. Fisheries aimed specifically at spawning aggregations such as those at Sennen and Newquay in Cornwall increase the vulnerability of the species to overfishing, undermining the sustainability of stocks in the longer term.

Management

It is a non-pressure or unprotected species, i.e. not subject to quota or other restrictions. There is no EU or national Minimum Landing Size (MLS). Where Inshore Fishery Conservation Associations (IFCAs) set local MLSs for grey mullet these are typically 30 cm but as low as 25 cm in Cornwall. Unrestricted or multi-tonne landings collapse the market price to the detriment of other commercial fishers as well as recreational anglers and of course the mullet! For example in the winter of 2014 9 tonnes of mullet were taken in one haul at Sennen, Cornwall and marketed at 22 pence per kilo. That's around 6% of the total UK landings taken in one haul and sold at around a tenth of the normal market price.

Capture Information

The commercial line fishery for mullet forms only a small part of the total commercial catch and is believed to be restricted to the Manacles Reef area off Cornwall. This commercial line fishery is an aggressive form of fishing which targets spawning fish. The technique employed uses "ripping" gangs of treble hooks which are towed or dragged through dense shoals of fish that have aggregated to spawn snagging the fish as they pass through the shoal. This method is likely to cause injury to fish that are not properly hooked and subsequently escape with wounds. Ripping also known as foul-hooking - the deliberate act of hooking fish in the body - is illegal in some IFCA areas e.g. Southern IFCA. Grey mullet is also a popular sport or game fish because of its strength and stamina and is sought by recreational anglers throughout the UK, including Scotland, and rank as the fourth most important shore target species overall. Many anglers value the mullet's sporting qualities over it's eating qualities and return their catch alive to the water; the catch-and-release rate is estimated between 80 and 90%. The estimated value of the recreational mullet fishery is around 5M (in sales of fishing tackle and fishing trip expenses) by comparison to recorded first sale value of commercial catches of around 492k. The Angling Trust, supported by the National Mullet Club, is campaigning to secure "Recreational Priority" status for mullet. Measures proposed to enhance the number and size of mullet available to the recreational fishery include: a ban on estuary netting; a MLS of 50cm and a closed season for commercial fishing for mullet over the January to April spawning season.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola
Pollack or Lythe
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Pouting or Bib
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia
Whiting

References

www.thenationalmulletclub.org/; Hickling CF (1970) A contribution to the natural history of English grey mullets. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK (50):609-633; Kennedy M & Fitzmaurice P (1969) Age and growth of thick-lipped grey mullet in Irish waters. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK (49):683-699