The largest mackerel in the western Atlantic, the king mackerel is a prized gamefish and an important commercial species, with millions of pounds of ﬁsh landed annually. A member of the Scombridae family, the king mackerel has ﬁrm meat, most of which is sold fresh or processed into steaks. Smaller quantities are canned, salted, smoked, and frozen. It may be ciguatoxic in certain areas, however.
IdentificationThe streamlined body of the king mackerel is a dark gray above, growing silver on the sides and below, and there are no markings on the body, although the back may have an iridescent blue to olive tint. Most of the fins are pale or dusky, except the first dorsal fin, which is uniformly blue; the front part of this fin is never black, which distinguishes it from the Spanish mackerel and the cero mackerel.
Other distinguishing features include the sharp drop of the lateral line under the second dorsal fin, as well as a relatively small number (14 to 16) of spines in the first dorsal fin and a lower gill rake count, which is 6 to 11 on the first arch. Young king mackerel may be mistaken for Spanish mackerel because of the small, round, dark to gold spots on the sides, but these fade and disappear with age.
Size/AgeAveraging less than 10 pounds in weight, the king mackerel is usually 2 to 4 feet long and weighs up to 20 pounds. It reaches a maximum length of 51⁄2 feet and a weight of 100 pounds. Females grow larger than males. The all-tackle world record is a 93-pound ﬁsh taken off Puerto Rico in 1999. This species is believed to reach 14 years old, but those older than 7 years are rare.
Life history/BehaviorMale king mackerel become sexually mature between their second and third years and female fish between their third and fourth years. They spawn from April through November, and activity peaks in the late summer and the early fall. A large female may spawn 1 to 2.5 million eggs.
FoodKing mackerel feed mainly on ﬁsh, as well as on a smaller quantity of shrimp and squid.
Other Nameskingﬁsh, giant mackerel; French: maquereau; Portuguese: cavala; Spanish: carite, carite lucio, carite sierra, rey, serrucho, sierra.
DistributionIn the western Atlantic, king mackerel range from Massachusetts to Río de Janeiro, Brazil, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, although they are only truly abundant off southern Florida. Two separate populations are suspected, one in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Atlantic.
HabitatKing mackerel are primarily an open-water, migratory species, preferring warm waters that seldom fall below 68°F. They often occur around wrecks, buoys, coral reefs, ocean piers, inlets, and other areas where food is abundant.
They tend to avoid highlyturbid waters, and larvae are often found in warm, highly saline surface waters. A schooling species, king mackerel migrate extensively and annually along the western Atlantic coast in schools of various sizes, although the largest individuals usually remain solitary.