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: Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, and king mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla.
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.
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.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
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.
Did You Know?
- Mackerel are popular with recreational anglers.
- The Maryland Chesapeake Bay record Spanish mackerel was caught in October 2007 in the Middle Grounds. It was 37 inches long and weighed 12.4 pounds.
Sources and Additional Information
- Fishes of Chesapeake Bay by Edward O. Murdy, Ray S. Birdsong and John A. Musick
- Spanish Mackerel and King Mackerel – South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
- Making Sense of Mackerel – NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office