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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Striped Mullet

Marine Fisheries

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STRIPED MULLET, Mugil cephalus

8-point rule

Striped mullet

Life History

Striped mullet are found in a wide range of depths and habitats, but primarily inhabit freshwater to estuarine environments until a spawning migration into the ocean occurs during the fall. Striped mullet serve as an ecological link between some of the smallest aquatic organisms and the highest-level predators in the marine food chain. Striped mullet feed on microorganisms such as bacteria and single-celled algae found on aquatic plants, in mud, silt, and sand and in decaying plant material. In turn, striped mullet are prey to top predators such as birds, fish, sharks and porpoises. Striped mullet are highly fecund (upwards of 4 million eggs for a large female) and spawn in large aggregations near inlets to offshore areas. Spawning individuals have been reported from September to March; however, peak spawning activity occurs from October to early December.

Fisheries

Since 2007, striped mullet commercial landings have ranged from a low of 964,348 pounds in 2016 to a high of 2 million pounds in 2010 (Figure 1). Landings have fluctuated little over this period except for large decreases in 2015 and 2016 followed by continued low commercial landings in 2017.
Figure 1

The Marine Recreational Information Program is primarily designed to sample recreational fishermen who use rod and reel as the mode of capture. Since most striped mullet are caught with cast nets for bait, recreational harvest data are imprecise. Misidentification between striped mullet and white mullet is also common. Bait mullet are usually released by anglers before observation by creel clerks, and, therefore, cannot be identified to the species level. However, based on a mail survey conducted by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, an estimated 320,662 mullet (striped and white combined) were harvested by recreational fishermen in 2017 (Figure 2).
Figure 2

Management

The North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission adopted a Striped Mullet Fishery Management Plan in April 2006. The plan established minimum and maximum commercial landings thresholds of 1.3 million pounds and 3.1 million pounds, respectively. If landings fall below the minimum threshold, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries would initiate further analysis of the data to determine if the decrease in landings is attributed to stock decline, decreased fishing effort or both. If landings exceed 3.1 million pounds, the division would initiate analysis to determine if harvest is sustainable and assess what factors are driving the increase in harvest. The plan also established a daily possession limit of 200 mullets (white and striped in aggregate) per person in the recreational fishery. Amendment 1 was completed in November 2015 and removed a Newport River gill net attendance requirement, addressed user group conflicts, and updated the management framework for the North Carolina striped mullet stock. Amendment 1 updated the minimum and maximum commercial landings triggers to 1.13 and 2.76 million pounds, respectively, that would warrant a closer examination of data.

Stock Overview

  • Assessment: Yes
  • Terminal Year of Last Assessment: 2011
    • Overfishing: No (as of 2011)
    • Overfished: Unknown

A stock assessment of the North Carolina striped mullet stock was conducted using the Stock Synthesis model, which incorporated data from commercial fisheries and three fishery-independent surveys (data collected by scientists) from 1994 to 2011. Spawning stock biomass (total weight of mature females in the stock) increased from 2003 through 2007, but has since declined. Recruitment (the number of fish that survive to the juvenile stage) has also declined in recent years, though a slight increase was observed in 2011. Fishing mortality has increased in recent years, but fishing mortality in 2011 was below both the fishing mortality target and threshold. Based on these results, the stock is not undergoing overfishing (rate at which striped mullet are removed from the population) through 2011. A poor relationship between spawning stock biomass and juvenile abundance prevented a determination of whether the stock is overfished (population size status). Striped mullet commercial landings in 2016 fell below the minimum landings threshold set by Amendment 1. This, in combination with declining trends in fishery independent indices, is a concern. Upon completion of additional data analysis in February 2018 the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries concluded that the striped mullet stock has likely declined since 2011. The division is updating the striped mullet stock assessment model to include data through 2017 and will present results of the assessment update and management recommendations at the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission business meeting in August 2018.

Division staff conduct sampling of adult striped mullet through the Striped Mullet Electrofishing Survey and the Independent Gill Net Survey. To provide the most relevant index from the division’s Striped Mullet Electrofishing Survey, data were limited to those collected during January through April, when striped mullet were most abundant in the Neuse River. A sample represents all the fish collected over a 500 meter transect. Striped mullet catch-per-unit-effort has been generally stable since 2008 but declined significantly beginning in 2015 and remained low in 2016 and 2017 (Figure 3). To provide the most relevant index from the Independent Gill Net Survey, data were limited to samples from shallow river areas during October and November, where and when most striped mullet occurred. Striped mullet catch-per-unit-effort was generally stable between 2008 and 2014 before declining to time series lows in 2015 and 2016 and remaining low in 2017 (Figure 4).
Figure 3

Figure 3

Research Needs

Research needs include the collection of life history information regarding maturity, age, growth, identification of spawning locations, and larval and juvenile movements; continued improvements in estimating recreational bait harvests; collection of length and age compositions and catch–per–unit–effort of commercial, recreational, and recreational–commercial gear fisheries, as well as from all relevant fishery–independent surveys; and creating and validating a juvenile abundance index.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

North Carolina Fishery Management Plan

North Carolina Fishery Management Plan Amendment 1

Contacts

For more information, contact Daniel Zapf at Daniel.Zapf@ncdenr.gov
or 252-948-3875
Striped mullet
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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