Karen Bell, owner of Star Fish Seafood Co. market and restaurant in Cortez, Fla., hasn’t been enjoying as much of her favorite fish as she’d like. It’s been another down year for mullet.
Bell and others along the Florida coast blame the weather for dampening their spirits and the harvest of not only mullet but grouper, shrimp and other seafood since this time last year.
“Back to back fronts” are the culprit, according to Amy Wirtz, manager of Pelican Point Seafood in Tarpon Springs. “The weather has thrown entire fisheries off,” she says.
Mullet fishermen may have been the most vulnerable lately because of the difficulty of navigating fairly high winds in small boats.
While it has been a down year, it hasn’t been much worse — if at all — than last year. Markets are still paying about 65 cents a pound and anywhere from 50 to 75 cents a pound for whole fish, as long as they’re a pound or more each.
In roe season — December and January — Star Fish was paying about $1.30 a pound for red roe females and 15 to 20 cents a pound for males with white (the mullet sperm is also called white roe). Roe season also has been light for the past couple of years, both Bell and Wirtz said.
In May, Bell was buying her average of about 1,000 pounds a week for wholesale and retail. Retail needs include Star Fish’s restaurant, where menu items include fried, blackened and grilled mullet.
Fried mullet is also on the menu at Harbor Docks Seafood in Destin, Fla. “We just started moving some mullet for one or two guys a few years ago,” said market manager Shannon Johnson. “Mostly for other retailers or wholesalers. There’s no markup on it to speak of. Ain’t no money in it for the dealers.” Johnson usually buys at 60 cents a pound and sells at 85 cents.
Wirtz buys from one fisherman who cast-nets. His haul varies widely, from 150 to 350 pounds a day, Wirtz says.