Pacific Mackerel

The Science


Fossils of Scomber japonicus have been found in the Pliocene of Italy, dating back 3 to 2.2 million years ago!

The Fishery

Pacific mackerel reached its catching peak in 1978 with 3,412,602 tons!

The Seafood

In the kitchen and market, the fish is in the best condition if the meat is firm and the eyes are clear with the colors bright.

The Science

Drew Talley, California Sea Grant
Drew Talley, California Sea Grant

Taxonomic description

  • Tapered, large-mouthed fish with dark blue, pointy head [1]
  • Dark blue back with wavy dark lines, silvery green undersides [1]
  • Reaches lengths up to 63 cm (25 in) and weight up to 2.7 kg (6 lbs) [1] 
  • Swim bladder attached to esophagus [2]
  • Large eyes relative to other mackerel species [2]

Distribution

  • Ranges from southeastern Alaska to Mexico [1]
  • Most common south of Point Conception, California [1]
  • Migrate north to Washington in summer, south to Baja California in winter [1,2]

Life history

  • Pelagic species living up to 18 years
  • Fast growers, able to reproduce by 4 years of age
  • Spawn from late April to September off of California, spawning events taking place several times a year and yielding about 70,000 eggs each time
  • Found in dense schools as defense mechanism against predators, often with other pelagic species [2]
  • Feed on plankton, other pelagic fish (e.g. sardine, anchovy) and their own young [1,2]
  • Eaten by sharks, tunas, marine mammals, and seabirds [1,2]

Habitat

  • Usually live within 20 miles offshore in water between 50 and 72 degrees
  • Move inshore and offshore seasonally off California - more abundant inshore from July to November, and offshore March to May [1]
  • Juveniles frequent sandy beaches, kelp beds, open bays, and congregate at piers [1]

The Fishery

mackerel_fishing
mackerelfishfrozen.com

Seasonal availability

  • Year-round, though more abundant in summer [3]

Managing authority

  • Managed by NOAA Fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council under Coastal Pelagic Species Management Plan [3]
  • Annual assessments of stock population by NOAA scientists determine harvest parameters [4]
  • Harvest of stock within Mexican waters goes unregulated, but scientists exchange data transnationally to assess entire population of Pacific mackerel [4]

Gear type

  • Commercial fisheries use round haul gear consisting of purse-seines, lampara nets, drum seines, and dip nets [4]

Status of the fishery

  • Currently harvested by two fisheries, commercial and sport fishing, both localized in Southern California [3, 5]
  • Stock collapsed in 1960s, resulting in moratorium on the fishery in the 1970s [4]
  • Recovered in the late 1970s, but demand has not rebounded for canned mackerel so harvest remains low [4]
  • Last mackerel cannery in Southern California closed in 1992 with diminished demand for the product [4]
  • Recent landings fall well under sustainable harvest limits [3,5]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Harvesting with round haul gear takes place in surface waters, minimally impacting the environment [3]
  • Schooling lifestyle of Pacific mackerel means bycatch is low, as they are densely grouped together [3]
  • Bycatch primarily consists of other coastal pelagic fish species [3]

The Seafood

mackerel_seafood
Katorisi, Wikipedia

Edible portions

  • Sold fresh, frozen, or cured; whole or filleted

Description of meat

  • Firm, oily, dark meat with a strong flavor, rich in omega-3 fatty acids [6]
  • Has large bones which are easily removed from the cooked flesh [7]
  • Flesh spoils quickly - should be promptly frozen, refrigerated, or cured [7]

Culinary uses

  • Best prepared without adding additional oils or fats to the meat, i.e. roasted, baked, or grilled, as the naturally oily meat self-bastes during cooking [7]
  • Robust flavor well- complemented by acidic, spice-heavy, or fruity sauces [7]
  • Meat is often smoked, substituting for smoked salmon
  • Raw, pickled fillets popular in Japanese dishes
  • Fried meat forms the base for escabéche, a spicy mixture of pickled vegetables

Nutritional information  

  • 1 fillet, cooked with dry heat
  • Good source of riboflavin

Toxicity report

  • No known contaminants [6]

Seasonal availability

  • Year round [6]

References

[1] NOAA FishWatch. Fish Watch and Seafood Profiles. – Pacific mackerel – Available: www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/mackerel/species_pages/pacifi...

[2] Kramer, D. Synopsis of the Biological Data on the Pacific Mackerel, Scomber Japonicus Houttuyn. FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 40. US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1969. www.fao.org/docrep/017/ap916e/ap916e.pdf

[3] NOAA FishWatch. Fish Watch and Seafood Profiles. – Pacific mackerel – Available:

www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/mackerel/species_pages/pacifi...

[4] Kramer, D. Synopsis of the Biological Data on the Pacific Mackerel, Scomber Japonicus Houttuyn. FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 40. US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1969. www.fao.org/docrep/017/ap916e/ap916e.pdf

[5] Pacific Mackerel. California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. 2014. www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/cpshms/pacificmackerel.asp

[6] NOAA FishWatch. Fish Watch and Seafood Profiles. – Pacific mackerel – Available:

www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/mackerel/species_pages/pacifi...

[7] BBC Good Food, Glossary: Mackerel, http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/mackerel