Atlantic Mackerel

Atlantic Mackerel

Scomber scombrus

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Mackerel, Common Mackerel, Boston Mackerel, Caballa

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to North Carolina
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Atlantic Mackerel

Atlantic mackerel.

LAUNCH GALLERY

Fishermen have been harvesting Atlantic mackerel in the Northeast since colonial times. In fact, colonists of the 1600s considered mackerel one of their most important commodities. Foreign fleets heavily fished Atlantic mackerel off the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Overfishing eventually depleted the Atlantic mackerel stock, and it collapsed in the 1970s. After Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976, managers gradually phased out foreign fishing in U.S. waters. They also implemented annual catch quotas for the U.S. fishery to limit harvests and rebuild the Atlantic mackerel stock.

U.S. market demand for mackerel is low. Americans do not typically eat Atlantic mackerel due to its strong, rich flavor, but the fish is popular overseas. Some of the U.S. harvest is sold fresh in domestic markets, but most is frozen and exported to markets around the world.

Looking Ahead

Atlantic mackerel are sensitive to changes in water temperature and migrate long distances on a seasonal basis to feed and spawn. NOAA Fisheries scientists have found that changing environmental factors have altered the distribution of Atlantic mackerel, shifting the stock northeastward and into shallower waters. These findings could have significant implications for U.S. commercial and recreational mackerel fisheries, which mostly occur during late winter and early spring.

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LOCATION & HABITAT

Atlantic mackerel are found on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, including in the Baltic Sea. In the western Atlantic, they’re found from Labrador to North Carolina. Atlantic mackerel are common in cold and temperate waters over the continental shelf. They swim in schools near the surface, and travel to and from spawning and summering grounds.

 
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BIOLOGY

Atlantic mackerel grow fast, up to 16-1/2 inches and 2.2 pounds. They can live up to 20 years and are able to reproduce by the time they reach age 2 to 3. There are two major spawning groups of Atlantic mackerel in the western Atlantic: a southern group spawns primarily in the Mid-Atlantic Bight from April to May, and a northern group spawns in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in June and July. Both groups typically spawn within 10 to 30 miles of shore. Depending on their size, females can have between 285,000 and almost 2 million eggs. They release their eggs in batches, between 5 and 7 times throughout the spawning season. Eggs generally float in the surface water and hatch in 4 to 7-1/2 days, depending on water temperature.

Atlantic mackerel feed heavily on crustaceans such as copepods, krill, and shrimp. They also eat squid, and some fish and ascidians (sac-like marine invertebrate filter feeders). Several species of fish and marine mammals eat Atlantic mackerel.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Atlantic mackerel are iridescent blue green on the back with a silvery white underbelly. About 20 to 30 wavy black bars run across the top half of their body, and a narrow dark streak runs below these bars along each side. Their body is spindle-shaped, tapering at both ends. Their two large dorsal fins are gray or dusky. The pectoral fins are black or dusky at the base, and the tail fin is gray or dusky. Their distinctive coloring fades quickly after they die.

 
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OVERVIEW

Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center collect information on Atlantic mackerel through their bottom trawl surveys. They research the abundance, biology, and distribution of the Atlantic mackerel and other marine resources in the Northwest Atlantic. They use this information to assess the status of the Atlantic mackerel stock and provide recommendations to managers.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

The last two stock assessments for Atlantic mackerel have failed to provide adequate information to make overfishing and overfished status determinations. The results of the most recent joint U.S./Canada stock assessment (2010) were uncertain, but indicated reduced productivity in the stock and a lack of older fish.

 
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ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

Atlantic mackerel are sensitive to changes in water temperature and migrate long distances on a seasonal basis to feed and spawn. NOAA Fisheries scientists have found that changing environmental factors have altered the distribution of Atlantic mackerel, shifting the stock northeastward and into shallower waters. These findings could have significant implications for U.S. commercial and recreational mackerel fisheries, which mostly occur during late winter and early spring.


 
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Harvesting Atlantic Mackerel

The U.S. commercial fishery for Atlantic mackerel operates primarily between January and May in southern New England and Mid-Atlantic coastal waters, and between May and December in the Gulf of Maine. Fishermen harvest mackerel in large volumes using mid-water trawls. While mid-water trawls have minimal impact on habitat, they can incidentally catch marine mammals such as short- and long-finned pilot whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and common dolphins. The Draft Atlantic Trawl Gear Take Reduction Strategy (2008) provides measures to reduce potential impacts of bycatch including outreach to educate fisherman about actions to take in the event of a marine mammal interaction and efforts to communicate interaction hotspots to fishermen in real time. It also contains voluntary measures concerning fishing practices, such as reducing tow times and turns while fishing. The mackerel fishery has some incidental catch of river herring and shad. A cap was established in 2014 to limit river herring and shad catch in the mackerel fishery.

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Management

Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Current management: Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan.

  • Mackerel is managed in federal waters. There are no state management measures for mackerel.
  • Mackerel are managed using annual catch limits, allocated between the commercial and recreational fisheries; managers monitor commercial catch on a weekly basis and will close the fisheries if the limits are reached before the fishing season is over.
  • Fishermen must have a permit to harvest Atlantic mackerel; managers limit the amount of available permits to control harvests. Under a limited access program that took effect in 2012, permits are issued to qualifying fishermen, dividing fishermen into three tiers based on their past participation in the fishery. This program is designed to reduce the fishing capacity of the mackerel fleet while allowing qualified vessels to continue fishing for mackerel at their historical or recent level of participation.

Canadian fishermen also harvest Atlantic mackerel from the western Atlantic stock, mainly off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between May and November. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans disclaimer manages these fisheries.

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Annual Harvest

U.S. landings over the past 10 years ranged from a low of 1,478 metric tons in 2011 to a high of 58,351 metric tons in 2006. U.S. landings in 2013 were 4,407 metric tons. Massachusetts and Rhode Island harvested the majority of U.S. landings in 2013, with more than 3,200 and 550 metric tons, respectively.

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Economy

The 2013 Atlantic mackerel harvest was valued at nearly $1.9 million. Atlantic mackerel is not a favorite of American consumers due to its strong, rich flavor and is more popular in other countries. Some of the U.S. harvest is sold fresh in domestic markets, but most is frozen and exported to markets throughout the world.

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Recreational

Mackerel are important to recreational fisheries in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, with the highest landings occurring from Massachusetts to Maine. Recreational harvest estimates averaged 828 metric tons from 2004-2013 and ranged from 465 metric tons to 1,491 metric tons during that same time period. The recreational mackerel fishery is open all year, with a catch limit set annually at the same time as commercial limits.

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OVERVIEW

Mackerel has a rich, pronounced flavor. For a milder flavor, cut out the outer bands of dark meat along the midline. When raw, the meat looks grayish and oily; when cooked, it is off-white to beige in color and soft, flaky, and moist in texture. Mackerel is considered one of the more healthful fish because it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Year-round.

 
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NUTRITION

Mackerel is high in omega-3 fatty acids and is an excellent source of selenium, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 205
Protein 18.6g
Fat, total 13.89 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 3.257 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 70 mg
Selenium 44.1 mcg
Sodium 90 mg

Atlantic Mackerel Table of Nutrition

 
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