Mullet, Red, Striped red mullet

Mullus surmuletus

Method of production — Caught at sea
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 — 4., 7.d and 3.a
Picture of Mullet, Red, Striped red mullet

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

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. Fishing pressure is too high and a market for small fish encourages irresponsible management of the fishery. There is no legislation to control catches 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 only within 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.

Stock information

Criterion score: 1 info

Stock Area

North Sea, Eastern English Channel and Skagerrak and Kattegat (Northern Area)

Stock information

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. The assessment is indicative of trends only. Biomass estimates, and landings showed increases in 2014-2015. Based on survey indices and landings-at-age structure, this increase was caused by a strong recruitment in 2014, the highest observed in the last ten years. Spawning-stock biomass decreased in 2016 because of the poor recruitment and high catches, including of juveniles, seen since 2015. Fishing pressure is too high and above the F MSY proxy.
ICES advise that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches should be no more than 465 tonnes in each of the years 2018 and 2019 (552 tonnes in 2016 and 2017; 460 t in 2014 and 2015; 1700 t in 2013 and 2014). All catches are assumed to be landed. Selectivity in the fishery also needs to be improved to protect juvenile fish.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

No specific management objectives are known to ICES. There is no total allowable catch (TAC) for this species or minimum landing size for red mullet in this area. Recent catches consist mainly of age 0 and age 1 fish and consequently there is no evidence of a strong incoming recruitment in 2016. The market for small fish exacerbates this problem. Scientists advise that the fishery for striped red mullet 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.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

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.


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
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES. 2017. ICES Advice. 13 November 2017)
ICES Advice 2015, Book 6