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