Pacific Mackerel

Scomber japonicus

Illustration of a Pacific Mackerel

Also Known As

  • Chub mackerel
  • Spanish mackerel

U.S. wild-caught Pacific mackerel is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.


Above target population levels.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

The gear used to catch Pacific mackerel is used at the surface and has little impact on bottom habitat.


Bycatch is low because gear used is selective.

  • Availability

    Year-round, but primarily in summer.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Washington to California.

  • Taste

    Rich with a pronounced flavor.

  • Texture

    Flaky and moist.

  • Color

    Dark red flesh.

  • Health Benefits

    Pacific mackerel is a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B6, and a very good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B12, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The U.S. Fishery


  • Commercial fishery:
    • In the 2018 fishing season, commercial landings off California totaled over 5.68 million pounds and were valued at more than $988,000.
    • While there is no directed fishery for mackerel in Oregon or Washington, small amounts are taken incidentally by whiting trawlers and salmon trollers.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Round haul nets are used to catch Pacific mackerel.
    • Habitat and bycatch impacts are minimal because the gear is used at the surface.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Recreational fishermen catch Pacific mackerel in California but seldom target them.
    • The statewide recreational harvest makes up a small fraction (less than 5 percent in weight) of the total landings.
    • California’s recreational catch of Pacific mackerel is included within the fishery harvest guideline, but there are no other restrictions on this fishery.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2019 stock assessment, Pacific mackerel are not overfished, and are not subject to overfishing based on 2018 catch data.
  • Pacific mackerel naturally experience “boom and bust” cycles of abundance, which is typical of other small pelagic species that have relatively short life spans and high reproduction rates.
  • The Pacific mackerel stock is well above its target population level. However, in historical terms, the population remains at a relatively low abundance level, due primarily to oceanographic conditions.


  • Pacific mackerel are found from southeastern Alaska to Mexico but are most common south of Point Conception, California.


  • Pacific mackerel live within 20 miles of shore in water ranging from 50˚ to 72˚ F.
  • When the population is small, they tend to occupy only the warmer part of their habitat.
  • Juveniles live off sandy beaches, around kelp beds, and in open bays.
  • Adults are found near shallow banks from the surface to waters almost 1,000 feet deep.

Physical Description

  • The body of the Pacific mackerel tapers at both ends.
  • They have a pointy head and a large mouth.
  • The head is dark blue, the back is dark blue with about 30 dark wavy lines, and the undersides are silver green.
  • Pacific mackerel can be distinguished from other mackerel by counting the finlets on their back; Pacific mackerel typically have four to six finlets.


  • Pacific mackerel grow fast, up to 25 inches and more than 6 pounds.
  • They can live up to 18 years but are able to reproduce by age 4, and sometimes as early as age 1.
  • They spawn at different times of the year, depending on where they live. Pacific mackerel spawn from late April to September off California, year-round off central Baja California peaking from June through October, and from late fall to early spring off Cabo San Lucas.
  • They spawn several times a year, releasing batches of almost 70,000 eggs each time. The eggs usually hatch within 4 to 5 days.
  • Pacific mackerel feed on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals) and the younger stages of all the pelagic species such as anchovies and sardines, as well as their own young.
  • Various larger fish (such as sharks and tunas), marine mammals, and seabirds eat Pacific mackerel.
  • Pacific mackerel school as a defense against predators. Often they will school with other pelagic species such as jack mackerel and sardines.
  • As adults, they migrate north to Washington in the summer and south to Baja California in the winter. The northerly movement in summer is accentuated during El Niño events.
  • They also travel inshore and offshore off California—they’re more abundant inshore from July to November and more abundant offshore from March to May.


  • NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center Mackerel Research
  • Because environmental conditions greatly influence the abundance of coastal pelagic species such as Pacific mackerel, scientists are concerned about how climate change will affect the productivity of these species. NOAA and its partners track how oceanographic fluctuations affect marine resources, including Pacific mackerel.

Last updated: 05/13/2020