Mullet

Distributed mainly in the Atlantic Ocean, Black Seas, and the Mediterranean, the order Mullus includes several species of mullet that frequently move up to the Norwegian coast (Fig. 5). Two species, the red mullet (Mullus barba-tus) and the striped mullet (Mullus surmuletus) generally spawn off the coast in the summer and reach sexual maturity in two to three years. They prefer sandy or muddy bottoms. The oil bubbles in the eggs permit them to float in the water. With the arrival of fall season, the juveniles seek greater depths. Preferring sandy or muddy ground, the red mullet has a steep forehead whereas the striped mullet, usually found above sandy ground, has a less-steep forehead. Although teeth are not present in the upper jaw, they are located on the vomer and the gums. Mullets had been an edible delight since Roman times. Although they are small, they commanded a high price and were commonly brought in the dining hall alive.

Nowadays, the commercially important mullet species is another striped mullet (Mugil cephalus). It is large and measures 90 cm and weighs 7 kg. This ash gray fish has a dark blue shimmer with 9-10 light longitudinal stripes on the sides of the body. The striped mullet resides in warm seas including the Mediterranean and frequents river mouths or lagoons. Young striped mullets are nourished in salt water or brackish water ponds until they have grown to acceptable size for the consumer market.

The suborder Mugiloidei, family Mugilidae includes several species of mullet that inhabit coastal waters and can acclimatize to brackish water, fresh water, or salt water. They prefer soft ground with a rich plant source located in tidal zones. The generic name Mugil (sucker) derives from their feeding habit. They prey on detritus and tiny organisms on the floor. Otherwise, these mullet feed on mussels, snails, planktons, and little organisms that frequent algal populations.

Figure 5. Striped mullet (Mugil ce-phalus). Source: Copyright 1990 by B. Guild-Gillespie.

Figure 5. Striped mullet (Mugil ce-phalus). Source: Copyright 1990 by B. Guild-Gillespie.

Ocean Perch, Rockfish, and Redfish

The fishes, commonly known as ocean perches, rockfishes, and redfishes belong to the family Scorpaenidae, the scorpion fishes (Fig. 6). In general, these are highly valued food fishes that resemble the freshwater bass in appearance. They are found in all tropical and temperate marine environments around the world. There are 60 genera with over 300 species in this family. The representatives of the popular food fishes in North America belong to the genus Sebastes. Fishes in this genus are ovoviviparous, that is they bear live young with some passive maturing from the mother. The commercially important representatives comprise two species in the Pacific and three species in Atlantic waters.

Pacific Ocean Perch

The Pacific ocean perch (Sebastes alutus) constitutes the major species of the Pacific Sabastes that is caught commercially for food. The fish may be caught by trawl or hand lines offshore and is mainly sold as fresh and frozen fillets. It can be recognized by a prominent knob, or overhanging tissue, off of the lower lip. It is colored a bright red over the entire body, including fins. The ventral side is usually lighter red. There are olive brown patches below the dorsal fin and on the dorsal side of the caudal penduncle. The Pacific ocean perch is found from southern California north to the Bering Sea. A close relative, the Sebastes paucispi-nosus, is found in the western shores of the Pacific, mainly around northern Honshu in Japan. It is usually found at depths below 130 m and fished most often between about 160 and 300 m.

The mature Pacific ocean perch can be between 30 and 50 cm in length. As for most species, the male is generally smaller, lives longer, and grows more slowly than the female. Spawning occurs in the winter months, and the young are born between January and February. Fecundity can vary an order of magnitude. Fish about 32 cm long and 7 yr old produce about 30,000 eggs, and a female 44 cm long and 20 yr old produces about 300,000 eggs. Unlike the bottom-dwelling adults, the younger are pelagic. Ocean perch have low growth rates. Because of this, the young stay pelagic until the second or third year of life before heading to the bottom to grow to maturity. Adults may live to be 30 yr old.

Yelloweye Rockfish

The yelloweye rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) are named for their brilliant yellow eyes. They have a characteristic orange-yellow color to their body with a pink tint along the back and sides. The fins are also pink with black margins. The bellies are white with black dots. They are found around reefs from Baja California up the west coast of North America to the Gulf of Alaska. These fish are mostly caught commercially by setlines with live or dead herring bait. They contribute significantly to the whitefleshed fillet market in fresh or frozen states. The yelloweye rockfish can grow to be about twice the size of the ocean perch. They can grow to be about 90 cm. They are normally found at depths between about 50-550 m. The fecundity of a 9 kg

Figure 6. Golden redfish (Sebastes marinus). Source: Copyright 1990 by B. Guild-Gillespie.

Figure 6. Golden redfish (Sebastes marinus). Source: Copyright 1990 by B. Guild-Gillespie.

female can exceed 2.5 million young. The young off the Washington coast are born in June.

Atlantic Redfishes

There are several species that belong to Sebastes in the Atlantic. Four occur in the North Atlantic Ocean, three in the western North Atlantic and one (Sebastes viviparous) in the eastern North Atlantic. The three species of Atlantic redfishes found off the North American coast are the Acadian redfish (Sebastes fasciatus), the golden redfish (Sebastes marinus), and the deepwater redfish (Sebastes men-tella). They are all commercially valuable as food fishes, although specific fisheries for each species do not exist. They are, rather, fished as a group and marketed as fresh and frozen fillets under the name of ocean perch. The deep-water redfish probably makes up the majority of the catch off the Newfoundland-Labrador coast, while the Acadian redfish is the main species in the commercial catch of redfish off the Georges Bank-Gulf of Maine region. These fishes are caught with otter trawls.

The Acadian redfish has an orange-red body with red fins, with the pelvic and anal fins having a particularly deep red color. There are green-black blotches below the dorsal fin and on the posterior part of the gill covers. There may be green iridescent flecks on the body above the lateral line. The deepwater redfish is bright red all over. The golden redfish can be colored either orange-yellow or gold-yellow.

The distribution of the Atlantic redfishes extends from Iceland, south to about Virginia on the U.S. coast. The golden redfish is more common in the northern range of this distribution but less common in North American waters compared to the Acadian redfish or the deepwater redfish. The golden redfish is common off Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and in the southern Barents Sea. The deepwater redfish has the broadest distribution of the three redfishes and occurs throughout the North Atlantic range of this genus except the North Sea and the Gulf of Maine. It is also found farther offshore than the other two species. The Acadian redfish may be considered the North American redfish because it is most common along the Canadian continental shelf and southward, particularly along the Georges Bank and in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine waters. The Acadian redfish occupies the shallowest waters of the three species, found most often at depths between about 130 and 370 m. The golden redfish is found from about 300 to about 370 m. The deepwater redfish is found in waters about 350-700 m.

About half of the populations of the Acadian and deep-water redfishes mature at about 19 cm and 30 cm for males and females, respectively. The female golden redfish matures at about 41 cm. There is evidence suggesting the young hatch inside the female golden redfish in April and are born between April and May. The Acadian and deep-water redfishes hatch their young between March and June and release their young between March and June. A study in the Gulf of Maine showed that the Acadian redfish about 30 cm retains about 50,000 fertilized eggs and releases about 15,000 to 20,000 living young. The young of the Acadian redfish grow to be about 8 cm in the first year and grow an average of about 2.5 cm each year up to about 10 yr of age, declining in rate after that. The growth rates in males and females seem to be about the first 20 yr of life.

The Atlantic redfishes, like the Pacific Sebastes, grow very slowly. Sections of the otoliths have been used to age these fishes. That data show that the golden and deep-water redfishes can live to be 48 yr old. This depends on the population. The populations of Acadian redfish in the Gulf of Maine may live up to 20 yr and grow to a maximum size of about 46 cm and 1.4 kg.

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