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October 25, 2001

Mutton vs. Mullet

Q: I have fished the Sea of Cortez for the past 25 years and continue to be confused regarding the difference between a mutton snapper and a mullet snapper. We have taken many snapper, called pargo lisa in Spanish; I believe these are mutton snapper, but your identification and the difference would be appreciated. - Ted Howell, Longview, WashingtonA: Well, Ted, if it came from the Sea of Cortez, it's not a mutton snapper. The true mutton snapper, Lutjanus analis, is a wide-ranging fish (Massachusetts to Brazil), but only in the Atlantic.

Q: I have fished the Sea of Cortez for the past 25 years and continue to be confused regarding the difference between a mutton snapper and a mullet snapper. We have taken many snapper, called pargo lisa in Spanish; I believe these are mutton snapper, but your identification and the difference would be appreciated. - Ted Howell, Longview, Washington

A: Well, Ted, if it came from the Sea of Cortez, it's not a mutton snapper. The true mutton snapper, Lutjanus analis, is a wide-ranging fish (Massachusetts to Brazil), but only in the Atlantic. It's a great fish, both to fight and consume, best recognized by a pair of blue cheek stripes, the forward one extending from snout to the upper opercle. Your pargo lisa is almost certainly the mullet snapper, Lutjanus aratus, a long, slender snapper that supports a subsistence fishery in the shallows on the Pacific side from the Sea of Cortez southward to Ecuador. The name "mullet snapper" probably comes from the alternating light and dark stripes on the sides, which resemble the pattern on mullet - since in Spanish the word for mullet is lisa. Both reach a similar size: The all-tackle world-record mutton snapper weighs 28 pounds, 5 ounces, and the mullet snapper, 33 pounds.