Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'TIRED OF WAITING' | Catch Down as Fishermen Wait for Fish to Gather in Schools

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'TIRED OF WAITING' | Catch Down as Fishermen Wait for Fish to Gather in Schools

Article excerpt

MULLET SEASON

Like a lot of Floridians weary of warm weather, the local fishing industry is praying for a little cool.

But for the people who catch mullet, the businesses that sell them and for those planning to expand Southwest Florida's mullet fishery into a sustainable industry, the record-setting warm winter is a much bigger issue than not being able to wear a favorite sweater or trade sandals for boots.

This time last year, the A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez was awash in the collective catch of striped mullet, with president Karen Bell ordering more ice to keep the fish fresh and wondering what she was going to do with all of them.

This year, the catch is about one-third of the bounty of

recent years, Bell said, and many fishing crews that came to Southwest Florida for the mullet season, roughly Thanksgiving to January, have gone home, tired of cruising the bays and waiting for fish to gather in schools.

"A lot of the guys are worn out, tired of waiting," Bell said.

Their quarry is unusual among food fish: Mullet are largely vegetarian and can't easily be caught on hooks, and because of worries about overfishing and impact on other species, using long seine nets of the size the industry says is effective is no longer allowed.

That leaves the fishing crews with one weapon -- circular cast nets so named because they must be thrown over fish, the outer edges of the net weighted to sink around them until it can be drawn together and hoisted onto a boat.

Cast nets are most effective with mullet if the fish are in big schools in coastal bays and river mouths, as striped mullet gather for their annual migration offshore to spawn.

Season is not over

Whether because of the unseasonable warmth or the presence of some red tide, the mullet have not been in the mood to mingle -- at least not yet.

"It ain't over til it's over," is Ed Chiles' view of the mullet season.

"We've seen more fish caught in the last 10 days, and there is another cold front coming," the Anna Maria Island restaurateur said. "The start of the season has been slow, but we don't know yet how the finish will be.

"The fish are going to go when they are going to go."

It's not that the number of mullet in local waters is down, he said. …

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