The Spanish mackerel is a popular gameﬁsh and a good food ﬁsh of the Scombridae family.
IdentificationThe slender, elongated body of the Spanish mackerel is silvery with a bluish or olive-green back. There are 16 to 18 spines in the ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn, 15 to 18 soft rays in the second dorsal ﬁn—with 8 to 9 ﬁnlets behind it, and 13 to 15 gill rakers on the ﬁrst arch. The lateral line curves evenly downward to the base of the tail.
The Spanish mackerel resembles both the cero mackerel and the king mackerel, but it has bronze or yellow spots without stripes; the cero mackerel has both spots and stripes of bronze or yellow, whereas the king mackerel has neither.
The Spanish mackerel lacks scales on the pectoral ﬁns, which further distinguishes it from both the cero and the king mackerel, which have scales on them. Also, the front part of the ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn on the Spanish mackerel is black, whereas it is more blue on the king mackerel, and the second dorsal ﬁn and the pectoral ﬁns may be edged in black.
Size/AgeThe Spanish mackerel grows to 37 inches and 11 pounds, averaging 1.5 to 3 feet and 2 to 3 pounds. The all-tackle word record is a 13-pounder taken off North Carolina in 1987. Fish older than 5 years are rare, although some have been known to reach 8 years.
Spawning behaviorSpanish mackerel are able to reproduce by the second year and spawn offshore from April through September.
Food and feeding habitsSpanish mackerel feed primarily on small ﬁsh, as well as on squid and shrimp; they often force their prey into crowded clumps and practically push the ﬁsh out of the water as they feed.
Other NamesAtlantic Spanish mackerel; Portuguese: sororoca; Spanish: carite, pintada, sierra, sierra pintada.
DistributionIn the western Atlantic, there are two separate populations of Spanish mackerel: one in the Gulf of Mexico and the other along the main western Atlantic coast. The former extends from the Gulf of Mexico throughout Florida waters to the Yucatán, and the latter extends from Miami to the Chesapeake Bay and occasionally to Cape Cod. They are absent from the Bahamas and the Antilles, except around Cuba and Haiti, but are abundant around Florida.
HabitatOccurring inshore, near shore, and off-shore, Spanish mackerel prefer open water but are sometimes found over deep grassbeds and reefs, as well as in shallow-water estuaries.
They form large, fast-moving schools that migrate great distances along the shore, staying in waters with temperatures above 68°F; these schools occur off North Carolina in April, off the Chesapeake Bay in May, and off New York in June, returning south in the winter.