Because fishing for many other species in the South Atlantic is increasingly restricted, effort in the Spanish mackerel fishery has increased. As a result, commercial quotas are more likely to be met and the sector closed before the end of the fishing season.
- Ocean perch
- Sea Bass
- Turbot (Greenland)
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Mackerel, Spotted Cybium, Bay Mackerel,
U.S. wild-caught from Rhode Island to Alabama
- FISHING RATE
- HABITAT IMPACTS
Click the icons to learn more about each criteria
Spanish mackerel have yellow or olive green oval spots on their bodies.LAUNCH GALLERY
U.S. commercial fishermen harvest several species of mackerel. Spanish mackerel makes up a smaller portion of total mackerel landings, but this flavorful fish is one of the most commonly caught species off the southeast coast and supports important commercial and recreational fisheries.
Before the 1980s, Spanish mackerel fisheries were unregulated. Airplanes would be used to seek out schools of mackerel and alert large gillnet vessels to their location, greatly increasing harvests of this fish. Spanish mackerel is not productive enough to support these large commercial harvests, especially because the species is also a favorite of recreational fishermen. Scientists determined that fishing rates were too high and were depleting the resource; state and federal managers promptly developed regulations to curb fishing for Spanish mackerel and help the resource recover. Several management measures – including limits on how much mackerel commercial and recreational fishermen can harvest, what types of gear they can use, and how many fishermen can participate in the fishery – have successfully rebuilt Spanish mackerel stocks after years of overfishing. Today, Spanish mackerel populations have fully recovered and are harvested sustainably.
LOCATION & HABITAT
Spanish mackerel is found off the Atlantic coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico. They mostly live in open water but are sometimes found over deep grass beds and reefs as well as in shallow estuaries.
Spanish mackerel swim in large, fast-moving schools. They prefer water temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit so they migrate as the seasons and water temperatures change. Along the Atlantic coast, Spanish mackerel spend the winter off Florida and move northward to North Carolina in early April and to New York in June. As waters cool later in the year, they return south to Florida waters. In the eastern Gulf of Mexico, they migrate to the west of Cape San Blas, Florida. They remain in the northern Gulf of Mexico until September and migrate south along the coast in the fall.
Spanish mackerel grow fast, up to 13 pounds, and can live up to 12 years. They’re able to reproduce by age 2. They spawn from April to September off the North Carolina and Virginia coasts in the Atlantic and in shallow coastal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Spanish mackerel release their eggs in batches throughout the spawning season. Females can have 500,000 to 1.5 million eggs over the spawning season.
Spanish mackerel are mid-level pelagic carnivores, preying primarily on baitfish such as herring, menhaden, sardines, mullet, needlefish, and anchovy. They also eat shrimp, crabs, and squid. Spanish mackerel are often seen forcing schools of small fish into tight bundles and nearly pushing them out of the water when feeding. Dolphins and sharks prey on Spanish mackerel.
Spanish mackerel is smaller than its relative, king mackerel. Spanish mackerel have a greenish back with silver sides and belly. They have yellow or olive green oval spots all over their body, and are covered with very tiny scales. You can tell Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel (Scomberomorus regalis) apart because Spanish mackerel has yellow-gold spots on its sides, and cero mackerel has yellow-gold streaks along its midline. King mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla) and Spanish mackerel can be distinguished by the king mackerel’s lateral line that drops abruptly below its second dorsal fin.
There are two migratory groups of Spanish mackerel, one in the South Atlantic and one in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists from NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center monitor the abundance of South Atlantic and Gulf Spanish mackerel. Scientists, managers, and stakeholders assess the status of these stocks through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process. Gulf Spanish mackerel was last assessed in 2003. South Atlantic Spanish mackerel was last assessed in 2008, but the review panel rejected the assessment. The next assessments are scheduled for 2012.
Scientists estimate that the abundance of the Atlantic stock has more than doubled since 1995 and that the Gulf stock has also continued to increase. Both populations are above target levels.
Harvesting Spanish Mackerel
Commercial fishermen use cast nets, gillnets, and hook-and-line gear to harvest Spanish mackerel. Cast nets account for the majority of landings. Spanish mackerel are caught in coastal waters at or near the surface, so fishing gear has minimal impacts on habitat. Fishermen throw cast nets and set gillnets directly on schools of Spanish mackerel, so they rarely catch other species. Hook-and-line fisheries for mackerel are selective and have little bycatch.
Who’s in charge? The South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils jointly manage the Spanish mackerel fisheries in federal waters; NOAA Fisheries implements the regulations developed by the Councils. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission works with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council to coordinate management of Spanish mackerel fisheries in state waters to ensure they’re managed similarly to the fisheries in adjacent federal waters.
Federal waters (3–200 miles offshore): Fishery Management Plan for Coastal Migratory Pelagic Resources in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
- Extends management area for Atlantic mackerels through the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s jurisdiction.
- Commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest Spanish mackerel in federal waters.
- Spanish mackerel must be 12 inches or larger to be harvested, to allow fish to mature and spawn.
- Spanish mackerel must be landed with heads and fins intact in both the commercial and recreational fisheries.
- Annual quota and trip limits – limit on how much commercial fishermen can harvest every season and per fishing trip. The annual quota is divided between the South Atlantic and Gulf and allocated between the recreational and commercial fisheries.
- In the Atlantic, the fishing season for Spanish mackerel opens March 1 and ends at the end of February, or when the season’s quota is reached. In the Gulf, the fishing season for Spanish mackerel opens April 1 and ends March 30, or when the season’s quota is reached.
- Gear restrictions – purse seines and drift gillnets are prohibited.
Atlantic state waters: Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Spanish Mackerel.
Size limits, commercial trip limits, and provisions for seasonal closures to complement the Council’s measures for federal waters.
Gulf state waters: State regulations for fisheries in Gulf of Mexico state waters are fairly consistent with federal regulations.
Despite peaking in the late 1970s and early 1980s, South Atlantic Spanish mackerel commercial harvests have been relatively flat, averaging 3.7 million pounds in the past couple years. The majority of landings come from the east coast of Florida and North Carolina.
In the Gulf of Mexico, catches have ranged from a high of 10.1 million pounds in 1987–1988 to a low of 2.1 million pounds in 1996–1997. Total landings generally increased after 1997, with most of the increases coming from the recreational sector of the fishery (see below). Over the past 5 years, commercial landings have averaged 1.3 million pounds annually. The commercial fishery has not closed early since the 1987–1988 fishing year.
Over the past few years, commercial harvests have been valued at an average of $1.85 million and $310,000 in the Atlantic and Gulf, respectively.
Spanish mackerel is an important catch for recreational fishermen, who often use them as bait for big game fishing. Recreational landings in the Gulf and South Atlantic have remained fairly steady over time. Landings in the South Atlantic averaged around 1.6 million pounds over the past few years. In the South Atlantic, recreational catches of Spanish mackerel have averaged between 2 and 3 million pounds since the early 1990s.
Recreational management measures include limits on the how many mackerel fishermen can catch and how small those fish can be. Mackerel must be landed with their heads and fins intact. Charter vessel/headboat operators must have a vessel permit for coastal migratory fish and must comply with possession limits. Managers limit the amount of available charter/headboat permits in the Gulf to limit fishing pressure on the Spanish mackerel resource.
Raw mackerel is grayish and oily; when cooked, mackerel is off-white to beige in color. The meat is flaky and moist and has a rich, pronounced flavor. For a milder flavor, cut out the outer bands of dark, strong-tasting meat along the midline. Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Spanish mackerel are an excellent source of selenium, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12.
|Serving Weight||100 g (raw)|
|Fat, total||6.3 g|
|Saturated fatty acids, total||1.828 g|
|Sugars, total||0 g|
|Fiber, total dietary||0 g|
Spanish Mackerel Table of Nutrition