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.