ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Dead fish washed up along the shorelines of Anna Maria Island this week, bringing with them a stench and raised eyebrows from many walking along its beaches.
It's a true sign of mullet season as some fishermen who harvest roe from female fish toss the carcasses off their boats and into the water.
"Unfortunately mullet season is strong under way," said Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon, adding that many mullet fishermen come from the other side of the state to Anna Maria Island. "The problem is the main value to the mullet is the roe -- the egg. Well, unfortunately fishermen that aren't very considerate remove the roe and then just throw the dead fish into the water instead of putting it in a bag or whatever. So now you have these dead fish that are floating. And then it's full moon, so the tide is higher than normal, so it brings the fish into the shore."
Bradenton Beach has even run out of parking tickets to issue because many are not parking their boats on the water correctly.
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Workers with the Manatee County Property Management Division began to carry out truck loads of dead mullet from Manatee Public Beach and Coquina Beach on Friday, and efforts will be expanded Saturday and Sunday with the help of county inmates.
According to Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker, most of the mullet found ashore are males that were intermingled with females in schools of fish that were then caught in nets by commercial fishermen.
"You can imagine -- it's not a chaotic thing at all, but it's a very aggressive and focused effort by fishermen," Hunsicker said. "They got to get as many fish on their boat as they can. There isn't time to stop in the middle of the netting frenzy to sit down and grab the males that are still flopping around, gasping for air and tossing them (into the water)... they'll get back to that load of fish when they can."
Hunsicker called the situation an emotional issue across the board.
"Fisher folk have been harvesting mullet this way for many generations. They have a recognized right to a way of life and a livelihood from the sea," he said. "But we want to work with them to see if we can find a way to better use the bycatch for food or for fertilizer or for purposes other than the cast-offs and the nonsensical practices that we are seeing.
"We're seeing unacceptable conditions along the shores of Anna Maria," he added.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who lives in Holmes Beach, said she's received multiple calls from friends about the dead mullet.
"Unfortunately it happens. You don't know who has done it but you're assuming it's the commercial fishermen," she said. "We've had a tremendously good mullet season."
At 8 a.m. Friday, Holmes Beach resident Gene Ciliberti was walking along Manatee Public Beach with two friends visiting from Maine when they came across some dead mullet.
"There were enough to see every step of the walk," the 84-year-old said.
His friends asked about red tide, which kills fish, but Ciliberti knew this was different.
"It's neither good or bad," he said. "It's a way of earning a living from what turns out to be an abundant type of fish in this area."
Ciliberti said there always seem to be plenty of mullet because the Gulf of Mexico is so healthy.
"Eventually, I have to think that if we keep destroying the eggs of the fish, eventually there will be fewer mullets out there in the Gulf," he said. "It's only an emotional opinion."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.