Is The 2016 Mullet Season Recovering From a Slow Start?
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Since WGCU-TV’s documentary: Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish, premiered in May, fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee have continued to flow down the Caloosahatchee River into the Gulf of Mexico. Warm summer temperatures, combined with the increased fresh water flowing into the estuary, have altered the marine habitat.
So, how have mullet populations fared this summer? Who better to ask than some of the locals featured in WGCU’s film?
“This year was a slow start, but now the fish have shown up and they’re getting thicker and thicker – it’s all connected to the weather,” observed Eddie Barnhill, owner of Barnhill Fisheries in Matlacha, Pine Island.
Was Eddie concerned about potential algal blooms affecting the mullet?
“The water is really hot, and that, coupled with the fresh water being dumped out of the rivers - that could cause a red tide,” he responded. “I’ve seen it happen before, at the beginning of mullet season – I’ve watched millions of mullet swim into it and die – so hopefully, that won’t happen this year.”
Second generation Pine Island fisherman, Mike Dooley had a slightly different take.
“The mullet numbers are way down,” said Dooley, “one day you’ll see a lot and then you go back the next day and you won’t see any.”
Is that normal behavior for mullet? Dooley didn’t seem to think so, and he’s been fishing for mullet since he was 12 years old. That’s when his father, who was a mullet fisherman before him, gave him a boat so he could follow in the family tradition.
“You used to find that they’d stay in one area – things are really different this year. Its’ been hot before but it doesn’t affect the fish. Usually when they come into the islands – we used to fish on them four or five days in one area, but now they’re gone to another area.”
Could red tide be to blame? Dooley didn’t think so.
“There’s been a lot of bad water this year,” he acknowledged. “A number of things that could cause it, such as pollution and run off from Lake Okeechobee.”
Jesse Tincher, Chef at the Blue Dog Bar & Grill in Matlacha, hasn’t noticed much of a difference in the supply of mullet. He’s quick to point out that he pays extra to purchase the highest quality of mullet available. On the bright side, he’s seen a renewed interest in the fish, and his Mullet Madness Mondays are drawing clients from as far away as Orlando. He partially credits WGCU’s Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish for the exposure. On a recent Monday night, Jesse cooked up 200 pounds of mullet for enthusiastic diners.
“When people try the mullet,” Jesse reports, “I tell them I’ll buy it back if they don’t like it.”
So has anyone ever taken him up on the challenge?
“We’re coming up on our second anniversary, and to date, no one’s ever taken me up on my offer.”
Tincher hopes that no one ever will, and, that regional waters continue to sustain a healthy mullet population.