Atlantic Mackerel

Common Name:

Atlantic Mackerel

Scientific Name:

Scomber scombrus

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Sourcing Summary

1-2 lbs.

Although it’s available year-round, some buyers recommend buying Atlantic mackerel in the fall from the trap fisheries off New England because this fish has high oil content after a summer of feeding. Atlantic mackerel is sold fresh, frozen, smoked or salted whole, in fillets, headed and gutted, and as steaks. This fish's flesh is firm, has a high oil content, and a strong savory taste. Mackerel are an excellent substitution for other fish with high oil content such as salmon, tuna, or bluefish, and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Like tuna, mackerel must be handled properly because lack of ice or refrigeration can lead to a higher risk of scromboid poisoning.

Harvest Methods

Wild

Trawl
Purse Seine
Midwater Trawl
Bottom Trawl

Product Forms

Fresh

  • Fillet
  • H&G
  • Whole

Frozen

  • Fillet
  • H&G
  • Whole
Fresh Seasonal Availability
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Culinary Composition

Flavor

Texture

Oil

Cooking Methods

Health & Nutrition

Nutrition facts

Serving size: 100 Grams
Amount per serving
  • Calories
    205.00
  • Total Fat
    13.89
    g
  • Cholesterol
    70.00
    mg
  • Sodium
    90.00
    mg
  • Carbohydrates
    0.00
    g
  • Protein
    18.60
Biology

Atlantic mackerel belong in the Scombridae family commonly called mackerel, a common name for swift-moving marine fish. The Scombridae family also includes tuna and bonito. Their bodies are spindle-shaped and tapered at both ends. This shape allows them to move quickly, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. They have iridescent blue green on their back and a silvery white underside, with 20 to 30 wavy black bars running across the top half of their body. A narrow dark streak runs below these bars along their sides. This distinctive coloring fades quickly after they die. 

They grow quickly, living up to 20 years and reaching sexual maturity by age two to three. They can reach lengths of up to 16 ½ inches and a weight of 2.2 pounds. Females grow bigger than males. Depending on their size, females can spawn between 285,000 and 2,000,000 eggs, releasing them in batches five to seven times throughout the spawning season. Eggs will float in the surface water and hatch in four to seven and a half days depending on the water temperature. 

Atlantic mackerel feed mainly on crustaceans like copepods, krill, and shrimp, but also consume squid, some fish, and ascidians. They are prey to several species of fish and marine mammals such as tunas, sharks, and dolphins. 

The UK, the EU, Norway, and the Faroe Islands work together to manage their catches through the Coastal States Arrangement. However, fishing of the Atlantic mackerel stock as a whole has remained in excess of scientifically recommended limits since the 1980s. In September 2019, all MSC certifications for Atlantic mackerel were suspended. 

Species Habitat

Atlantic mackerel can be found on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, as far east as the Baltic Sea. In the northwest Atlantic, they are found from the southern Labrador Sea to North Carolina. Two separate populations with little to no mixing exist in the northwestern and northeastern Atlantic. They swim in schools by size near the surface, in cold and temperate waters over the continental shelf. They travel to and from spawning and summering grounds, overwintering in deeper waters but moving closer to shore in spring when the water temperatures are between 51.8° and 57.2° Fahrenheit (11° and 14°Celsius).

In the western population spawning occurs from Chesapeake Bay to Newfoundland, starting in the south and moving northward in the summer. Most spawning occurs within 10 to 30 miles from shore. The eastern population spawns in different regions at varying times – in the Mediterranean from March to April, in southern England, northern France, and the North Sea from May to June, and in the Kattegat and Skagerrak from June to July.  

Science & Management:
  • Wild
    Science: 

    NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center collect information on Atlantic mackerel through bottom trawl surveys, researching their abundance, biology, and distribution. This information informs the stock assessment and NOAA scientists subsequently provide recommendations to managers.

    Because Atlantic mackerel are sensitive to water temperature change and seasonally migrate long distances to feed and spawn, changing environmental factors have altered their distribution. The stock has shifted northeastward and into shallower waters, which could have significant implications for U.S. commercial and recreational mackerel fisheries, mostly occurring during late winter and early spring. 

    Management: 

    In 2016, US commercial landings of Atlantic mackerel combined to over 11.7 million pounds and were valued at over US $3 million, harvested mainly by Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Two areas make up the Atlantic mackerel fishery: a southern fishery operating in southern New England between January and May and a northern fishery operating in the Gulf of Maine between May and December. They are harvested in large volumes with mid-water trawls and bottom trawls in the US, and in Canada are harvested with purse seines. Atlantic mackerel are considered as one stock in the US and Canada.

    The US Atlantic mackerel fishery is federally managed by NOAA Fisheries and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council under the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan. No state management exists for Atlantic mackerel. Annual catch limits are set between commercial and recreational fisheries. Permits are required for harvest, available under a limited access program in order to control harvest. Managers of the fishery monitor commercial catch weekly and will close the fisheries if the limits are reached before the season is complete. 

    Recent assessments of Atlantic mackerel showed that biomass is currently depleted and near historic lows at about 5% of 1980s levels. Mackerel biomass and catch peaked in the early 1970s due to strong recruitment and lower fishing mortality, but has since been declining due to less recruitment and overfishing. Fishing mortality is above a sustainable level in both the US and Canada. Abundance and fishing mortality are both considered high concerns. According to NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s 64th Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop report, the US considers the stock to be overfished and currently experiencing overfishing. 

    Canada considers the stock to be in the Critical Zone, or below the Limit Reference Point (LRP). Management did not set catch limits above scientifically recommended levels in 2015 and have not reduced mortality to a precautionary level given stock assessment uncertainty. 

    The UK, the EU, Norway, and the Faroe Islands work together to manage their catches through the Coastal States Arrangement. However, fishing of the Atlantic mackerel stock as a whole has remained in excess of scientifically recommended limits since the 1980s. In September 2019, all MSC certifications for Atlantic mackerel were suspended. 

Wild

Impact on Stock

Atlantic mackerel previously had an unknown population status, and according to the 2018 stock assessment, their stock is overfished, and overfishing is occurring. Indications show that the stock has been overfished for nearly a decade.

Habitat Impacts

Mid-water trawls, bottom trawls, and purse seines are all used to harvest Atlantic mackerel. Purse seines allow for a targeted catch because fishermen can easily locate and identify the fish they are seeking. Mid-water trawl nets have minimal impact on the marine environment compared to bottom trawl nets, but both can incidentally catch marine mammals.

Bycatch

The fishery incidentally catches other forage species such as Atlantic herring and river herring at levels that may not account for the ecosystem’s needs. Risso’s dolphins and short-beaked common dolphins are also caught in bottom trawls, although Atlantic herring and river herring fishing mortality are considered high concern due to higher than recommended fishing mortality levels for forage species. 

Bycatch strategy for all three gear types is considered moderately effective. The Atlantic Trawl Gear Take Reduction Strategy provides measures to reduce potential impacts on bycatch, including fishermen education on marine mammal interaction responses and voluntary measures regarding fishing practices that include tow time reductions.

Management Effectiveness

In the late 1970s US Atlantic mackerel stocks collapsed due to overfishing that began occurring in the late 1960s, but effective management helped them recover to abundant levels. In 2018, the stock assessment indicated that the stock has again collapsed. A US rebuilding plan is in place and is projected to be successful in a reasonable time frame. 

Canadian management is considered ineffective for Atlantic mackerel because of a lack of appropriate strategies to rebuild the stock. A rebuilding plan is in process but is not yet completed or implemented. 

Farmed
Origin Harvest Method Sustainability Rating Find Products
Atlantic Ocean - Northeast (Coastal States) Purse Seine
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Atlantic Ocean - Northeast (Coastal States) Pelagic Trawl
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Atlantic Ocean - Northeast - Europe and Norway Midwater Trawl
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Atlantic Ocean - Northeast - Europe and Norway Purse Seine
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Atlantic Ocean - Northeast - Europe and Norway Handline
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Canada - Atlantic Purse Seine
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Iceland Wild-caught
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Southern, Western & North Sea Handline
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Unassessed Origin Unassessed Fishing Methods
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United Kingdom - Cornwall Ring Net
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Name Country State/Province
Allseas Fisheries Corp. Canada Ontario
Barry Group, Inc. Canada Newfoundland and Labrador
Beyond the Sea Sales and Marketing, Inc. United States Massachusetts
Bionic Zoo and Aquarium
Cape Cod Community Supported Fishery United States Massachusetts
City Fish Canada Alberta
FaroeLandia Ltd. Denmark
Fisherman's Market International Inc. Canada Nova Scotia
Gulf of Maine Sashimi United States Maine
Halperns' Purveyors of Steak and Seafood United States Georgia
Intercity Packers Meat & Seafood Canada British Columbia
John Nagle Co. United States Massachusetts
Maine Shellfish Company United States Maine
Maximum Seafood Canada Ontario
McRoberts Sales Co., Inc. United States Florida
Ming Hong International, Inc. United States California
Northeast Oceans United States Massachusetts
Profish Ltd. United States District of Columbia
Red's Best United States Massachusetts
Royal Hawaiian Seafood United States California
Salties Imports Canada Alberta
Sara Sarl Mauritania
Sea to Table, USA United States New York
Seacore Seafood Canada Ontario
Seafreeze Ltd. United States Rhode Island
Seattle Fish Company United States Colorado
Seattle Fish Company - Kansas City United States Missouri
Sizzlefish United States North Carolina
Steve Connolly Seafood Company Inc. United States Massachusetts
The Fish Guys Inc. United States Minnesota
Visscher Seafood Netherlands
Wixter Market United States Illinois

Acknowledgements

  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO)
  • Marine Conservation Society
  • NOAA Fisheries
  • Seafood Watch Program
  • SeafoodSource
Last Updated: 6/24/2020