More than a century ago, mullet was vital to North Carolina’s economy.

“The common mullet, or ‘jumping mullet,’ is the most important food-fish of the Beaufort waters,” wrote Hugh McCormick Smith, author of The Fishes of North Carolina, published in 1907.

“The mullet fishery is the largest industry in the State derived from saltwater fishes. The importance of the mullet to the fishermen is increased by the fact that it is taken during the summer when most other fish are scarce,” noted Smith, then deputy U.S. commissioner of fisheries with the Bureau of Fisheries, a precursor to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Today, mullet mostly are targeted for their roe, or eggs. In 2014, commercial fishermen harvested more than 1.8 million pounds of the fish, valued at about $1.1 million. That leaves a lot of mullet meat.

Bill Rice, owner of Fishtowne Seafood, smokes and sells mullet at his store in Beaufort. This enables Rice to offer his customers a new product. Smoking also prolongs the shelf life of the fish.

Barry Nash, North Carolina Sea Grant seafood technology and marketing specialist, adapted Joyce Taylor’s dip and spread recipes for Rice’s smoked mullet.

“This is a species that is relatively unfamiliar to visitors to the coast. It’s not widely available in restaurants,” Nash explains. “I wanted to evaluate it in a preparation that wasn’t deep fried or grilled, something other than the traditional way of cooking mullet.”

He will continue his analyses this autumn. Nash’s goal is to develop new markets for this little-known fish.

These recipes are adapted from Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas. Look for a copy at local bookstores. To order from Sea Grant, contact Sandra Harris at 919-515-9101 or

Visit the Mariner’s Menu blog at for more kitchen-tested recipes featuring North Carolina seafood.

Contact Rice at 252-728-6644 about the possibility of getting the smoked meat inland. To learn more about the fish, search for “striped mullet” at — E.L.


Creamy Smoked Mullet Dip

Creamy Smoked Mullet Dip

• 1 pound smoked mullet

• 12 ounces cream cheese, softened

• 1/2 cup light cream

• 4 teaspoons fresh lime juice

• 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

• 1 teaspoon pressed garlic

• 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

• 4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

• paprika

In medium bowl, blend cream cheese together. Add lime juice, Worcestershire, garlic, Tabasco, parsley and white pepper. Mix thoroughly. Gently fold in mullet. Chill thoroughly. Place in serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with assorted vegetables. Makes about 3 cups.


Smoked Mullet Spread

Smoked Mullet Spread

• 1 pound smoked fish

• 1 pound cream cheese, softened

• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

• 1/4 cup chopped sweet pickles

• 1/2 cup finely chopped celery

• 4 tablespoons horseradish

• 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

• 3/4 cup light cream

Flake fish. Blend together cream cheese, lemon juice, onion, pickles, celery, horseradish, Tabasco and parsley. Add fish. Blend in cream. Serve with crackers. Makes about 3 cups.


Tangy Smoked Mullet Dip

Tangy Smoked Mullet Dip

• 1 pound smoked mullet

• 8 ounces cream cheese, softened

• 1/2 cup sour cream

• 1/2 cup mayonnaise

• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

• 4 tablespoons minced green onion, including tops

• 1/2 teaspoon pressed garlic

• 2 teaspoons horseradish

Combine cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise in medium bowl. Add lemon juice, Tabasco, onion, garlic and horseradish. Gently fold in fish. Chill thoroughly. Serve with chips or assorted crackers. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

This article was published in the Autumn 2015 issue of Coastwatch.

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