White Mullet

White Mullet, Mugil curema

The White Mullet, Mugil curema, whose common Spanish name is lisa blanca, is a member of the Mullet or Mugilidae Family, known collectively as lisas in Mexico. Globally, there are fifteen species in the genus Mugil, seven of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic, two in the Pacific, and two in both oceans.

The White Mullets have very elongated bodies with a rounded cross section; their body depth is 20 to 22% of standard length. They are olive to bluish dorsally, silvery on their sides, and white ventrally. They have six dark stripes along their flank, a large black blotch on the base of their pectoral fin, and a medium-sized gold blotch on their gill covers. Their anal fin is transparent with a black margin, their second dorsal fin is dark, their pelvic fins are yellowish, and their other fins are transparent. Their head is broad, slightly wider than deep, and is 22 to 23% of standard length. They have a small terminal mouth with thin lips and a knob on the bottom of their lower lip. They have a blunt nose, prominent well-developed fatty eyelids with a small slit over their pupil, and front and rear nostrils that are widely separated. Their anal fin has 3 spines and 9 or 10 rays; their caudal fin is weakly forked; their two dorsal fins are widely spaced with 4 or 5 spines and 8 or 9 rays; and their pectoral fins are short and do not reach the origin of the first dorsal fin. They do not have a lateral line and their body is covered with large scales.

The White Mullets are found near the surface over sandy bottoms in shallow coastal waters and estuaries at depths up to 80 feet; they also venture into adjacent fresh water. They reach a maximum length of 91 cm (36 inches) with males and females being of equal size; as of 2015 the world record is 1 pound 7 ounces with this fish caught in Brazilian waters in 2001. They travel in enormous schools and feed primarily on algae, zooplankton, and dead plant matter making them an important ecological waste processing machine. They are preyed upon by fish, birds, and various other marine mammals. They are known for leaping out of the water frequently, which is believed to generate oxygen. Reproduction is oviparous with females laying between 1 and 5 million eggs annually that are fertilized externally by males. The eggs are pelagic and non-adhesive. They have a lifespan of up to sixteen years.

In Mexican waters the White Mullet are found in all waters of both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The White Mullet is virtually identical to, and easily confused with, the Striped Mullet, Mugil cephalus (darker coloration; eight anal rays; black blotch at base of pectoral fin). It is also similar to the Liseta Mullet, Mugil setosus (blunt head profile; deeply concave anal and second dorsal fins; longer rounded pectoral fins).

The White Mullets are filter feeders and as such cannot be caught with hook and line via traditional methods. They show up in June and July along the southern coasts of Baja by the millions attracting the famous Roosterfish. They are caught either via cast nets or snagging with heavily weighted treble hooks with surf casting gear. They are one of the important commercial live baits of the greater Los Cabos area during the summer months and are fly-lined live targeting one of the world’s true exotics, the Roosterfish, as well as Dorados, Groupers and Snappers. They can also be used as effective cut bait or for chum. In some countries they are raised by aquaculture. They are also sold year-round in local Mexican markets both fresh and salted for human consumption. Their roe is sold fresh or frozen.

White Mullet, Mugil curema. Fish provided by the commercial fishermen of Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Baja California Sur, May 2017. Length: 30 cm (12 inches).

White Mullet, Mugil curema. Anal fin with three spines and nine rays, a key to the correct identification of this species.  Fish provided by the commercial bait salesmen of Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, July 2014. Length: 30 cm (12 inches).

Striped Mullet, Mugil cephalus and White Mullet, Mugil curema. Both fish provided by the commercial bait salesmen of Puerto Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, July 2014. Length: 28 cm (11 inches) and 30 cm (12 inches).