Red Mullet

Red Mullet
  • Scientific name: Mullus surmuletus
  • Also know as: Striped Mullet, Goatfish
  • Size: Up to 18ins and 4lbs.
  • UK minimum size: 8ins/20cm
  • UK shore caught record: 3lb 15oz
  • IUCN Status
    • Global: LC (Least Concern)
    • Europe: DD (Data Deficient)
  • Distribution: Mostly found around the south of the British Isles.
  • Feeds on: Red mullet scour the seabed for crustaceans worms and molluscs, although they are unfussy and will scavenge on fish given the chance.
  • Description: Steeply sloping head and large eyes. Two dorsal fins, the first of which is quite spiny. They have a tapering body streaked with red and sometimes yellow lines on the back and upper flanks fading to pale on the underside. There are two long sensory barbels protruding from underneath the head. The tail is deeply forked and can, along with the fins, have a yellowish tinge.
  • Additional notes: This is a different fish to the distantly related grey mullet species which have a separate entry on this website.

The thick lipped grey, thin lipped grey and golden grey mullets are all members of the Mugilidae family, making them true mullet species. The red mullet, however, is a member of the separate Mullidae family, meaning it is only distantly related to grey mullet species. In the rest of the world this species is known as a type of goatfish, although in the UK the name red mullet has stuck with this species.

A warm-water fish the red mullet is found throughout the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, with its range extending to the northern coast of Africa and the coasts of Spain, France and Portugal. It found through the English Channel and the southern parts of the North Sea, meaning it is more common around the south and west of the British Isles. It has been observed as far north as parts of Scotland in sporadic numbers, but is absent from the colder Scandinavian waters and the Baltic Sea. When fully mature they prefer deeper water and are generally found over sandy, shingle and mixed seabeds. Red mullet are a demersal fish which scour and scavenge along the seabed for shellfish, crabs, small lobsters and will also eat marine worms and feed on dead fish.

Red Mullet Natural Environment
A red mullet in its natural environment.

The red mullet is edible but there is little demand for this fish in Britain, although it is a very popular food fish in much of the rest of Europe. Red mullet were hugely valued in ancient Rome, with the Encyclopedia Americana from 1920 stating that red mullet were so expensive that they were sold for their weight in silver. In terms of reproduction, the red mullet is the total opposite of the slow-growing and late-maturing grey mullet and can reproduce when only two years old and around twenty centimetres long. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes this species as one of Least Concern globally, although heavy fishing for this species in European waters may have a future impact on stock levels. More research is needed on this, meaning it is classed as Data Deficient on a European level.

As they are a rare fish in UK waters anglers rarely specifically target this species and most red mullet are caught inadvertently by anglers targeting other species. Red mullet usually go for fish, crab or worm baits, fished on sandy or mixed seabeds.