Mackerel are fast-swimming fish with elongated, bluish or greenish bodies. They visit the Chesapeake Bay from spring through autumn while migrating along the Atlantic coast.
Two species of mackerel can be found in the Chesapeake Bay:
Mackerel have elongated bodies covered in small scales, with small finlets running from the dorsal and anal fins to the broadly-forked tail fin. They have sharp, pointed teeth. Spanish mackerel have a greenish or bluish back and a silver belly, and their silver sides are covered in oval, brassy spots. King mackerel are bluish-green to gray on the back and silver on the belly. Juvenile king mackerel have small, bronze spots. Spanish mackerel can grow to 2 feet in length, while king mackerel are much longer, growing to more than 5 feet long.
Live near the surface of the Bay’s open waters, close to the shore. King mackerel also live around wrecks, reefs and other hard structures.
Spanish mackerel migrate from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay in spring, entering the Bay by May and leaving in autumn to return to Florida. Spanish mackerel are found in the middle and lower Bay, most common along Virginia’s western shore and extending at least to the Patuxent River. King mackerel occasionally visit the lower Bay between June and October (peaking in September) while migrating along the Atlantic coast.
Mackerel eat mostly fish such as menhaden and anchovies, but also prey upon shrimp and squid. Spanish mackerel hunt by forcing schools of small fish into tight bundles at the surface of the water.
Bottlenose dolphins, sharks and tuna prey on mackerel.
Spawning occurs along the Atlantic coast during warm-weather months. Spanish mackerel spawn off the Virginia and North Carolina coasts from late spring through late summer. King mackerel spawn over the Atlantic continental shelf from July through September.