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Fish Facts  »  Spanish Mackerel


The Spanish mackerel has a fusiform body and a pointed snout which is much shorter than the rest of the head. There are two closely spaced dorsal fins. The first dorsal fin has 17 to 19 spines and originates above the pectoral fin base while the second dorsal fin has 17-20 rays. The caudal fin is falciform. Spanish mackerel have no swim bladder and the body is covered with small silvery scales. This mackerel also lacks scales on the pectoral fins except at the bases as does the king mackerel. The lateral line of the Spanish mackerel gradually slopes down toward the caudal peduncle. The Spanish mackerel is iridescent blue-green along the dorsal surface and silver along the sides of the body. There are approximately three rows of large dark elliptical brown and brassy spots along the sides of the body. The number of spots increases with increasing fork length of the mackerel The anterior third of the first dorsal fin is dark in color.


Spanish mackerel are epipelagic, residing at depths ranging from 33-115 feet (10-35 m). They are often found in very large schools near the surface of the water. They frequent barrier islands and the passes associated with these islands and are rarely found in low salinity waters. Spanish mackerel larvae occur mostly offshore while juvenile mackerels are found both offshore and in the beach surf. Migrating over large distances close to shore, Spanish mackerel in the Atlantic Ocean follow the coastline northward during the warmer summer months and back in the autumn and winter months to waters off Florida. There are some populations of this fish in the Gulf of Mexico that migrate westwards in the early spring to waters off Texas. This species also migrates along the coast of Mexico southward between August and November and then northward again in March and April.


The diet of adult Spanish mackerel consists primarily of smaller fish such as herrings, jacks and sardines. This mackerel is also known to feed in lesser quantities on shrimp and cephalopods.


Spanish mackerel support very extensive commercial and recreational fisheries in the U.S. because of their high food quality and the fish's fighting ability. Most fishing for this species occurs along the Atlantic coast of the US and in the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational fishermen in Florida are allotted 15 Spanish mackerel per person per day with a minimum size limit of 12 inches (304.8 mm) FL. Spanish mackerel are caught primarily with purse seines and on line gear. It is consumed as fresh, frozen and smoked by humans although the flesh easily becomes rancid in less than three months when frozen. Currently, frozen Spanish mackerel is treated with antioxidants and EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) which is used as a preservative.


Spanish mackerel commonly grow to an average size of 8 - 11 lbs. (4 - 5 kg). The maximum reported length of this species is 35.8 inches (91 cm) fork length (FL). Juvenile Spanish mackerel grow rapidly and then start to slow as they reach age 5 for males and age 6 for females. Size at sexual maturity varies between areas and sex (Table 1). The oldest Spanish mackerel sampled was 11 years for females and 10 years for males.


Spanish mackerel are found in the subtropical and tropical waters off North America and the Caribbean. They are locally found along the Atlantic coast from as far north as Nova Scotia (Canada) and south to Florida along the Gulf of Mexico (US). Florida is considered to be the area with the highest abundance of Spanish mackerel This species is also seen along the north coast of Cuba and throughout the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. It is replaced from Belize to Brazil by a similar species referred to as Scomberomorus brasiliensis (Collette, Russo, and Zavalla-Camin, 1978).


Florida Museum of Natural History

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