Red mullet

Mullus surmuletus - Mullus barbatus

The red mullet is a benthic fish living near sandy or rocky bottoms. There are several species of red mullet on the European seafood market :

  • the mud red mullet Mullus barbatus: a rounded forehead, orange-pink skin and a single-coloured dorsal fin. Its size varies between 12 and 25 centimetres.
  • the rock red mullet Mullus surmuletus: a flatter forehead, pink skin and a dorsal fin streaked with brown and yellowish stripes. Its size varies between 15 and 42 centimetres.

Sometimes confused with another red mullet, this one can be distinguished from its congener by its two long barbels under its chin. It is called "barbet" because of this characteristic and "red mullet" for the colour of its skin. The red mullet's barbels are a distinctive feature and a remarkable receptor when it’s digging in the mud enabling it to detect the small organisms wich it’s feeding with close to the bottom.

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Les caractéristiques

  • Thin head with two long barbels;
  • Body covered with fairly broad scales;
  • Pink to orange colouring skin.
  • Fresh whole or frozen fillet;
  • Pan-fried, roasted or baked depending on size;
  • Cold in salads.
  • Firm, fine and tasty flesh;
  • Fish with many fine bones;
  • Rich in protein and low fat.


The red mullet is available all year long on the stalls. For Mediterranean fish, fishing takes place between May and October. Red mullet reproduction takes place from May to July.
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Dans l'assiette

Fine connoisseurs will know how to appreciate and recognize it. Not as much appreciated yesterday as it is today , it’s considered as a noble species now. What does red mullet like? It’s fine flesh and colour!

Red mullet is scaled for gentle, quick cooking in a frying pan or poached. It is possible to keep the scales for a "grilled" cooking on the plancha for example. Indeed, the scales protect the rather fragile flesh of the red mullet. For the small one, the red mullet can be fried.

This fish should be eaten quickly after purchase (within the day or the next day).
A small piece of advice, do not empty it and keep the red mullet liver which is a very tasty part of this fish.
On a whole fish, the yield is 40% when filleted.

© Crédit photo : Café des philosophes

zones de pêche

The red mullet is a fish from the waters of the Bay of Biscay, the Mediterranean, the English Channel and the Celtic Seas. However, depending on the species, the range is different.

Thus, the rock red mullet is more present on the coasts of Norway, Morocco and in the waters of the Mediterranean, while the mud red mullet prefers the Mediterranean to the English Channel and North Sea.

These preferred habitats form different stocks where the red mullet evolves:

  • The rock red mullet
    • Stock in the Bay of Biscay: according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES); evaluation of this stock is difficult in view of the lack of data. Red mullet is not subject to quotas in this area but the recommendation is to limit landings (1 600 tonnes annually).
    • North Sea - East Channel stock: the situation in this area is rather critical, the fish stock is overexploited. ICES recommends limiting catches, improving the selectivity of fishing gear and protecting juveniles so that the fish stock can return to a stable state over time.
  • The rock red mullet and the mud red mullet
    • Mediterranean stock: for these two species, the exploitation is total in Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. The situation is even more critical in Spanish waters where red mullets are overexploited.
  • The Mud red mullet
    • Gulf of Lion stock: the state of this stock is improving although overexploited, the biomass is increasing again.

The consumption of red mullet is dependent on the state of the stock. It is a fish to be consumed in moderation. It is preferable to buy red mullets from the Bay of Biscay.

Techniques de pêche

Red mullet is fished by bottom trawl, senne and net.

Fishing technique plays an important role in the presentation of the fish. It is called "red mullet with all scales" when the fishing technique has not damaged the fish. These are often from the Breton and Vendee coasts.

Legally, the minimum catch size depends on the fishing area. It is 11 centimeters in the Mediterranean (although it is preferable to fish for red mullet from 14 centimeters) and 15 centimeters in the Atlantic. Scientists even recommend avoiding red mullets smaller than 18 centimeters (50 g) so they can reproduce.

In France, the red mullet fishery accounts for 2,000 to 5,000 tonnes depending on the year.

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