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Date of Issue: January 04, 2007

Mullet run overloads fish house, market, prices

The mullet run may be over, fisherfolk suspect, but while it lasted it was so much of a good thing that it shut down the biggest fish processor in the area.

It drew fishermen from all over Florida and beyond, and they fished until their boats were dangerously loaded and the men themselves exhausted from casting and hauling their nets. And still the mullet ran.

Then they stopped.

Just disappeared, evidently moving south to the waters off Naples, which was the next and newest mullet bonanza.

While they ran here, though, it was overwhelming. "Nothing like it in years," said Karen Bell of the A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, largest processor. 

"The weather was right, the fish were right, the fishermen were right," she said.

The harvest was so huge that the Bell company was glutted, used up all of its ice and had to stop taking in more fish to process. It borrowed a refrigerated semi-trailer from the Taylor vegetable processing company "and it saved us."

"We had just sold too much ice to other processors," she said ruefully.

The big run ran the prices down, from $1.50 a pound down to $1.10.

The good news extended in from the sea, too - Thomas "Blue" Fulford, lifelong Cortez fisherman who had to retire with fishing injuries and took to making castnets, "sold every single one, and now I'll have to make more." A fisherman casts his net so it arrives flat on the water surface, its weights pull it down and it traps fish. It is brutally hard work, but with an occasionally big payday. The mullet roe is valued as a kind of caviar in Asian markets.

At one point, curious about the glut of fishermen the glut of mullet was bringing, Fulford drove his pickup over to the Coquina Beach launching ramps and counted more than 100 boat trailers waiting for their boats and boatmen to return from the Gulf fishing grounds.

Many Cortez castnetters have moved south with their fellow fishermen visitors, following the fish as men have for hundreds of years.

The mullet run traditionally starts around Thanksgiving and lasts until around the New Year, governed by cold fronts that move over the Gulf of Mexico.

It inspired a Holmes Beach poet who writes under the name Gilligan to record his reaction as "Mullet Run":

Run run mullet run
Long low skiffs are here
Run run mullet run
Carolina pirates draw near

Run fast through back waters
Run fast along the causeway
Run fast around the tip of island
Or it could be your last day

Run run mullet run
Late December is at hand
Run run mullet run
Your roe is in demand

Run fast away from Cortez
Run fast from Egmont Key
Run fast from Anna Maria
Or on the smoker's rack you'll be

Run run mullet run
The market is not slow
Run run mullet run
Or on our plates you'll go.

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