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Mackerel

Atlantic Mackeral

© B.Guild/ChartingNature
www.chartingnature.com

Common Names

Scomber scombrus

  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Mackerel

Scomberomorus cavalla

  • Kingfish
  • King mackerel

Scomberomorus maculates

  • Spanish mackerel

Scomber japonicus

  • Big-eyed mackerel
  • Blue mackerel
  • Chub mackerel
  • Common mackerel
  • Greenback mackerel
  • Japan mackerel

HOLY MACKEREL?

Everyone is familiar with the clichéd phrase, “holy mackerel,” made famous by the late Harry Carry during his baseball commentary career. The term, however, predates American baseball as we know it and can be traced back nearly 300 years. The term is a reference to Catholics who, in accordance with their religious guidelines, eat fish rather than red or white meats on Fridays. Mackerel’s cheap market prices led to insults like “mackerel snatcher” toward those who stole this affordable yet delicious seafood item.

HEALTH ADVISORY

Environmental Defense has issued Spanish and King Mackerel consumption advisories for women, men and children due to elevated mercury levels.

Several important members of the Scombridae family swim the waters off the U.S. and are fished commercially: Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), king mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla), Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculates), and chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus).

The largest U.S. mackerel fishery, with over 53,000 MT (118 million pounds) landed in 2004, is Atlantic mackerel, which is found in large schools on both sides of the North Atlantic. Caught off the U.S. coast from New Jersey to Maine, mackerel averages one to two pounds. The fishery for Spanish mackerel is much smaller by comparison: Florida fishermen catch over 2,000 MT (five million pounds) in a typical year, with individual fish averaging two to three pounds. Florida also accounts for most of the king mackerel supply in the U.S., with over 2,000 MT (five million pounds) landed in 2004. Kings are substantially larger and can grow to 70 pounds, but most of the commercial catch averages five to 20 pounds.

While king and Spanish mackerel account for less than 15 percent of the total U.S. mackerel landings, they are the most commonly caught species off the Southeast coast

CONSERVATION NOTES

U.S. mackerel fisheries appear to be well managed and sustainable at current catch levels. In the case of Atlantic mackerel, market conditions, rather than size of the resource, usually dictate catch levels.

Mackerels are targeted in a variety of ways: mid-water trawls, gillnets, cast nets, and hook-and-line. Bycatch has not been a major issue in these fisheries because mackerel are pelagic schooling fish caught in the upper level of the water column. Up to 15 percent of Atlantic mackerel are incidentally caught in bottom trawls targeting groundfish; however, this bycatch is landed and accounted for when catch limits are set for the whole fishery. There is also a high bycatch of juvenile mackerel in shrimp fisheries, and this bycatch is discarded. Some estimates equate this bycatch to the total catch for targeted mackerel. Despite this, mackerel populations appear healthy and not overfished.

Before 1995 there was a significant gill net fishery for Spanish and king mackerel in Florida waters. Since that time, a ban on gillnets in this state has resulted in a switch to cast net and hook-and-line fishing gear thereby decreasing catch levels in Florida. The king mackerel fishery in Florida is almost 90 percent hook-and-line fishing.

IN SEASON

  • Year-round, although fish caught in the summer and fall have higher oil content

PRODUCT FORM

FRESH AND FROZEN:

  • Whole
  • Fillets
  • Headed and gutted

BUYING TIPS

  • In the U.S., where most mackerel is landed in high-volume fisheries, the focus is more on quantity, than quality, although it is possible to find higher-quality fish from smaller-volume fisheries.
  • The best Atlantic mackerel is landed in the fall in trap fisheries off New England. After a summer of heavy feeding, this fish has high oil content and is excellent grilled.
  • Like many tuna, if mackerel is handled poorly (lack of ice or refrigeration), histamines can result, leading to a higher risk of scromboid poisoning.

MERCURY IN MACKEREL

Mercury levels in mackerel vary drastically by species. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a joint statement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warning women and children (0–12) not to consume any king mackerel due to elevated mercury levels. However, there is no mercury advisory for Atlantic mackerel, a species with one of the highest levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.