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What is a Mackerel?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Mackerel is a term used to refer to certain fish that tend to be found in temperate and moderate waters. However, the term does not refer to a single fish or even a single species of fish. There are dozens of species of fish that fall into this category. Most of these are from the Scombridae family. Other families that include fish in this category are Auxis and Rastrelliger.

Since there are many types of fish considered to be mackerel, it is not possible to give an exact description of their appearance. Most fish in this category, however, are round or torpedo shaped. Many are also characterized by colored bodies with dark irregular stripes and luminous effects. When mackerel have scales, the scales tend to be small and commonly do not cover the head.

Fish in this group are carnivorous. They feed on organisms such as sardines, fish eggs, and small crustaceans. What these fish eat depends on the waters where they are found. Various species of mackerel appear around the globe, including waters off of the coasts of Morocco, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US).

Mackerel travel in large schools that may extend several miles. These fish tend to be concentrated in warmer waters. Since they are surface feeders, during the summer months, it is common to find large schools skimming just below the water’s surface looking for food.

Some of these fish have developed a reputation for their abilities to dive deep at quick speeds. This is possible because some of these fish lack swim bladders. Other species, such as the chub, possess swim bladders and do not have such capabilities.

Predators of mackerel include dolphins, sharks, and humans. Humans catch the fish for sport and food. Although humans enjoy the oily meat produced by these fish, serving it commercially is a delicate matter because it quickly spoils.

This constitutes a need for immediate curing. Otherwise, the chances of contracting scomboid food poisoning can be high. This condition is characterized by headaches, cold symptoms, and hives.

These fish reproduce quickly and in large numbers. Spawning generally occurs in April and May. After the spawning period, a single female can release approximately 500,000 eggs that float at the surface of the water. Females of the chub species are believed to be the most fertile mackerel, producing approximately one million eggs at once. Eggs generally hatch in about a week.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a mackerel?

A mackerel is a common name for various species of pelagic fish, mostly from the family Scombridae, which includes tunas. They are known for their slim, cylindrical shape and numerous finlets on the dorsal and ventral sides behind their main dorsal and anal fins. Mackerels are swift and active predators, feeding on smaller fish and crustaceans.

Where can mackerel be found?

Mackerel species are found in both temperate and tropical seas worldwide. They are highly migratory and are known to travel great distances for feeding and breeding. Coastal waters are common habitats, but some species also venture into the open ocean, often in large schools.

What is the commercial importance of mackerel?

Mackerel is a significant fish in the global seafood market due to its rich, oily flesh that's high in omega-3 acids. It's commercially fished and farmed for human consumption, with methods ranging from traditional line fishing to large-scale trawling operations. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, millions of tons of mackerel are caught annually.

How do mackerel contribute to the ecosystem?

Mackerel play a crucial role in marine ecosystems as both predators and prey. They help regulate populations of smaller fish and invertebrates, and are themselves a key food source for larger marine animals such as sharks, dolphins, and seabirds. Their presence indicates a healthy, balanced marine environment.

Are mackerel populations at risk?

Some mackerel populations have faced challenges due to overfishing and environmental changes. However, management measures have been implemented in various regions to ensure sustainable stocks. For instance, the Atlantic mackerel has been subject to quotas and fishing restrictions to prevent depletion, with varying degrees of success.

What are the health benefits of consuming mackerel?

Consuming mackerel offers numerous health benefits due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which support cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation. It's also a good source of protein, vitamins D and B12, and minerals like selenium. Regular consumption of mackerel can contribute to a balanced diet and overall well-being.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By ladyjane — On Aug 22, 2011

My husband buys bulk amounts of canned mackerel every time he visits our local wholesale club. I know they have a long shelf life but I was wondering if I could remove them from the cans and freeze them. Has anyone ever tried that before? If so, how did you do it and how long can they be kept in the freezer?

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