spanish mackerel

Atlantic Spanish mackerel

The Atlantic Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, is a migratory species of mackerel that swims to northern Gulf of Mexico in spring, return to south Florida in eastern gulf, and to Mexico in western gulf in fall.


The fish exhibits a green back; its sides are silvery marked with about three rows of round to elliptical orange spots. Lateral line gradually curving down from the upper end of the gill cover toward caudal peduncle. The first (spiny) dorsal fin is black at the front. Posterior membranes are white with a black edge. Its single row of cutting edged teeth in each jaw are large, uniform, closely spaced and flattened from side to side. As with the King mackerel and the Cero, these teeth look very similar to those of the Bluefish, Pomatomus Saltatrix.


Spanish mackerel occur seasonally from the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico, as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They are a shallow water species, preferring sand bottom in 20 to 40 foot (6 to 12 m) depths, occasionally found as deep as 80 feet (24 m).

Migration patterns

It appears that one Atlantic and one or more Gulf groups of Spanish mackerel occur in Florida waters. With rising water temperatures, the Atlantic group migrates along the Atlantic coast of the United States from Miami Florida, beginning in late February through July reaching as far as southern Cape Cod, Massachusetts, then returning in fall. An Eastern Gulf group moves northward from the Florida Keys during late winter and spring, appearing off the central West Coast of Florida about April 1. Movement continues westward and terminates along the northern Texas coast. During fall, this group migrates back to its wintering grounds in the Keys.

Life History

The Gulf group of Spanish mackerel spawn in batches from May to September off shore of Texas, off the Gulf shore of Florida as early as April in some years. The Atlantic group spawns starting in April off the Carolinas and from late August to late September in the northernmost part of its range. Spanish mackerel mature by age-1 and 14 inch (36 cm) fork length (FL). Females live longer and grow to larger sizes than males. Females may live as long as 11 years, growing to 11 pounds (5 kg) and 33 inches (83 cm) FL. Males reach about age-6 and 19 inches (48 cm) FL.

Feeding Habits

Spanish mackerel are voracious, opportunistic, carnivores. As with other members of the genus, food consists mainly of small fishes with lesser quantities of shrimp and squid. Striped anchovies (Engraulidae) and clupeoids such as menhaden, alewives and thread herring (Opisthonema), are particularly important forage in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Veracruz. The percentage of anchovies consumed is higher for juveniles than for adults.

Fishing Gear and Methods

Spanish mackerel are a highly valued fish throughout their range from North Carolina to Texas. Recreational anglers catch Spanish mackerel from boats while trolling or drifting and from boats, piers, jetties, and beaches by casting spoons and jigs and live-bait fishing. A favorite method of catching these swift fish is jiggin' on the flats with the Banana Jigs. Commercial methods are primarily run-around gill netting, and rarely, by trolling lures similar to those used by recreational anglers.

Nutrition and Processing

Spanish mackerel are primarily marketed fresh or frozen as fillets as commercially caught fish are too small to sell in the form of steaks. Their raw flesh is white. They may be prepared by broiling, frying, baking or, rarely, by smoking.

Similar Species

Spanish mackerel are similar in appearance to small King mackerel (S. Cavalla) and Cero mackerel (S. regalis). All three are very similar in shape and coloration. They may be distinguished as follows:

The lateral line on Spanish and Cero mackerel slopes gradually from the top edge of the gill to the tail. In contrast that of the king mackerel takes an abrupt drop at mid-body.

The first (spiny) dorsal on Spanish and Cero mackerel has a prominent black patch. The King mackerel has none. As all three species normally keep the first dorsal folded back in a body groove, this difference is not immediately evident.

Spanish mackerel have prominent yellow spots on the flanks at all sizes. In addition to such spots, Cero mackerel have one or more yellow stripes along the centerline. Young King mackerel have similar, but slightly smaller spots; these fade away on individuals weighing over 10 pounds (4.5 kg), but they may still be seen as spots of slightly darker green on the upper back from some angles of view.

World wide there are many members of this genus quite similar to one or another of these three species. In particular, off Mexico, Spanish mackerel may be confused with S. brasiliensis which may appear in the same area.

See also



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