Pacific Mackerel

Picture of a school of Pacific chub mackerel.

About The Species

U.S. wild-caught Pacific mackerel is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

Above target population levels.

Fishing Status

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impact

The gear used to catch Pacific mackerel is used at the surface and has little impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Bycatch is low because gear used is selective.

Status

  • According to the 2015 stock assessment, Pacific mackerel are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.
  • Pacific mackerel naturally experience “boom and bust” cycles of abundance, which is typical of other small pelagic species that have relatively short life spans and high reproduction rates.
  • The Pacific mackerel stock is well above its target population level. However, in historical terms, the population remains at a relatively low abundance level, due primarily to oceanographic conditions.
Appearance
  • The body of the Pacific mackerel tapers at both ends.
  • They have a pointy head and a large mouth.
  • The head is dark blue, the back is dark blue with about 30 dark wavy lines, and the undersides are silver green.
  • Pacific mackerel can be distinguished from other mackerel by counting the finlets on their back; Pacific mackerel typically have four to six finlets.
Behavior and Diet
  • Pacific mackerel grow fast, up to 25 inches and more than 6 pounds.
  • They can live up to 18 years but are able to reproduce by age 4, and sometimes as early as age 1.
  • They spawn at different times of the year, depending on where they live. Pacific mackerel spawn from late April to September off California, year-round off central Baja California peaking from June through October, and from late fall to early spring off Cabo San Lucas.
  • They spawn several times a year, releasing batches of almost 70,000 eggs each time. The eggs usually hatch within 4 to 5 days.
  • Pacific mackerel feed on plankton (tiny floating plants and animals) and the younger stages of all the pelagic species such as anchovies and sardines, as well as their own young.
  • Various larger fish (such as sharks and tunas), marine mammals, and seabirds eat Pacific mackerel.
  • Pacific mackerel school as a defense against predators. Often they will school with other pelagic species such as jack mackerel and sardines.
  • As adults, they migrate north to Washington in the summer and south to Baja California in the winter. The northerly movement in summer is accentuated during El Niño events.
  • They also travel inshore and offshore off California—they’re more abundant inshore from July to November and more abundant offshore from March to May.
Location Description

Pacific mackerel are found from southeastern Alaska to Mexico but are most common south of Point Conception, California.

Management