Mullet, Red, Striped red mullet

Mullus surmuletus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, Eastern English Channel and Skagerrak and Kattegat (Northern Area)
Stock detail — 3a, 4, 7d
Picture of Mullet, Red, Striped red mullet

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2019.

This stock is data limited. The information available is insufficient to evaluate stock trends and exploitation. There is concern for fishing mortality and concern for the biomass. It is thought that the main driver for the red mullet stock size is poor recruitment and an increase in fishing. There are no specific management objectives and no total allowable catch (TAC) set for this stock. There is also no minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) for red mullet in this fishery and catches mainly consist of age 0 and age 1 fish. Demersal otter trawling is not a well-targeted fishing activity and is known to have the potential to take relatively high quantities of bycatch ( > 40% of catch weight).


Red mullet is a member of the Mullidae family. Distributed throughout the world in tropical and warm temperate seas, it is one of two species found in the Mediterranean (the other being Mullus barbatus). It is also found as far north as Britain and Ireland in summer. They prefer deep water and warm temperatures. Young fish are distributed in coastal areas, in waters of low salinity, while adults have a more offshore distribution and are found at high salinity. It can attain a length of 45 cm and is reported to live up to 10 years. It has distinctive barbels - sensory organs - with which it detects food in the sea bed. This is the reason for its alternative name - goat fish. Spawns in May-July in the Channel area. Becomes sexually mature at 2 years at about 22 cm length. In the English Channel, the species matures at approximately 16 cm. The estimated age at sexual maturity is 1 year old in the Bay of Biscay at approximately 15.5 cm.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

This stock is data limited. The information available is insufficient to evaluate stock trends and exploitation. There is concern for the fishing mortality and concern for the biomass. It is thought that the main driver for the red mullet stock size is poor recruitment and an increase in fishing. However, there is evidence of a strong incoming recruitment in 2018. Currently, the age structure is truncated, and recent catches of this stock mainly consist of age 0 and age 1 fish. Red mullet has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

Reference points for biomass and fishing mortality are not defined and the stock assessment relies on information collected in the eastern English Channel, on age-structured data provided by France, and on length data provided by France and the UK. The percentage of landings covered by length and age sampling is 26%. Additional length and age samples from the main fleets, including other areas and nations, are needed to improve the quality of the assessment.

ICES provided advice for red mullet in this area for the first time in 2012 and between 2014 and 2018, landings exceeded the advice set. Spawning stock biomass had also decreased since 2015, as a consequence of poor recruitment and an increase in fishing pressure. The stock score may improve in the next assessment due to large incoming recruitment in 2018.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

No specific management objectives are known and there is no total allowable catch (TAC) set for this stock. There is no minimum landing size for red mullet and consequently, catches mainly consist of age 0 and age 1 fish and there is a market for small fish. Scientists advise that the fishery would benefit from improved technical measures such as sorting grids, increased mesh size, and spatial and temporal closures. These measures could reduce the catches of small fish and contribute to more stable yields.

Demersal fisheries in the area are mixed fisheries, with many stocks exploited together in various combinations in the different fisheries. In these cases, management advice must consider both the state of individual stocks and their simultaneous exploitation in demersal fisheries. Stocks in the poorest condition, particularly those which suffer from reduced reproductive capacity, become the overriding concern for the management of mixed fisheries, where these stocks are exploited either as a targeted species or as a bycatch.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels. This stock is not covered by the North Sea MAP.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

25% of the red mullet fishery is taken by demersal otter trawl. The remaining catch is taken by Danish seine (69%) and Gill or fixed net (up to 6%). Discards and bycatch in the fishery are not recorded by ICES. There is no minimum landing size and no fisheries management measures in place. However, demersal otter trawls are known to have the potential to take relatively high quantities of bycatch (> 40% of catch weight).

This fishery is conducted by bottom trawlers using a mesh size of 70-99 mm in the eastern English Channel and in the south of the North Sea. These areas are fished by trawlers of various types and this species is a bycatch in all of these fisheries. Demersal otter trawling is not a well-targeted fishing activity, and this fishery catches a wide variety of mixed demersal finfish, such as sole, plaice, monkfish, John dory and skates and rays. Smaller, demersal sharks are occasionally taken as bycatch in otter trawl fisheries such as Starry smooth-hound and spurdog.

There are a number of MPAs in UK and EU waters, some of which are designated to protect benthic features. If those MPAs were found to be subjected to bottom trawling, MCS would consider it a default red rating unless there is evidence (e.g. environmental impact assessment) indicating the activity does not damage the integrity of the site.


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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
Sturgeon (Farmed)


Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2017. Mullus surmuletus, Red mullet. Available at: [Accessed on 08.11.2019]

ICES. 2019. Striped red mullet (Mullus surmuletus) in Subarea 4 and divisions 7.d and 3.a (North Sea, eastern English Channel, Skagerrak and Kattegat). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, mur.37.3a47d. Available at [Accessed on 08.11.2019]

ICES. 2018. Report of the Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK), 24 April - 3 May 2018, Oostende, Belgium. ICES CM 2018/ACOM:22. Available at [Accessed on 08.11.2019]
Seafish. 2016. RASS Profile: Striped red mullet in the North sea and Eastern English Channel, Demersal otter trawl. Available at [Accessed on 08.11.2019]

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. 2017. Red mullet. Available at [Accessed on 08.11.2019]