Mullet, Red, Striped red mullet
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, Eastern English Channel and Skagerrak and Kattegat (Northern Area)
Stock detail — IV, VIId, IIIa
Red mullet stocks are not formally assessed but survey data from the North Sea indicate a considerable increase in the stock size since the 1990s and a more recent decrease. The stock is also being fished at a high level. There is no EU management for the species, which is a cause for concern, as red mullet is taken in both targeted fisheries and as bycatch. A minimum landing size of 15 cm is enforced in the jurisdiction of the Cornish Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority. Although this is just below 16 cm, the size at which they mature (in the English Channel), this is the only management measure for this species, so fish from this area is the best choice currently available. There is also a voluntary Code of Practice for netting red mullet in the Cornwall IFCA district to help reduce bycatch and discards in seasonal fisheries for red mullet. Avoid eating immature fish (less than 16 cm) and fresh (not previously frozen) fish caught during the summer spawning season (May-July).
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.
North Sea, Eastern English Channel and Skagerrak and Kattegat (Northern Area)
There is insufficient information available to define reference points for red mullet or to evaluate the stock in these areas.The available information on stock identity suggests there is more than one stock in the ICES area. Recent stock identification studies by otolith and fish shape in European waters show that striped red mullet can be geographically divided into two units: Western Unit (Subareas and Divisions VI, VIIa,c, e,k, VIII, and IXa) and Northern Unit (Subarea IV (North Sea) and Divisions VIId (Eastern Channel) and IIIa (Skagerrak-Kattegat)). For the first time, in June 2012 ICES provided advice for this species in these areas. The northern stock is mainly fished in the eastern English Channel and southern North Sea. Biomass for this stock is estimated to have decreased in recent years. However recruitment in 2014 is the highest observed in the last ten years suggesting stock biomass will increase in 2015 and 2016 provided the young fish are allowed to mature. Scientific advice for 2016 and 2017 is to increase catches by no more than 20% and be no more than 552 tonnes (460 t in 2014 and 2015; 1700 t in 2013 and 2014). Selectivity in the fishery also needs to be improved to protect juvenile fish.
No specific management objectives are known to ICES. There is no total allowable catch (TAC) for this species.
An increasing number of fishermen are using monofilament nets to target red mullet. Red mullet fishing practices vary widely between different fishermen and it is apparent that some practices can lead to high bycatches of non target species which, if they cannot be released alive, is very wasteful and may even threaten the conservation of some species. If properly set it is well known that nets can be used to catch red mullet and little else. In Cornwall a Code of Practice has been developed with the help of local fishermen to incorporate ideas which, if followed, should greatly reduce the incidences of high bycatches which cannot be legally retained. EU regulations state that landed catches taken from bottom set nets must include at least 70% of specified target species. For nets up to 70mm mesh size these are red mullet, mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, garfish, sardine, sprat and eel. Any bottom set net between 70mm and 90mm mesh size is prohibited.The Code of Practice lists six specific measures to reduce incidences of high bycatches. These measures include targeting red mullet in July to December inclusive. This ensures high catches of red mullet and lower catches of bycatch species. Targeting red mullet during this time also means the fishery avoids capturing them during their spawning time, May to July; avoiding setting the net over hard ground and around wrecks and; reducing the soak time (the amount of time the net is in the water) to less than three hours. For more information go to the Cornwall Inshore Fishery Conservation Authority (IFCA) website.
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