[mak-er-uhl, mak-ruhl]
mackerel, common name for members of the family Scombridae, 60 species of open-sea fishes, including the albacore, bonito, and tuna. They are characterized by deeply forked tails that narrow greatly where they join the body; small finlets behind both the dorsal and the anal fins; and sleek, streamlined bodies with smooth, almost scaleless skins having an iridescent sheen. All members of the mackerel family are superb, swift swimmers. The firm, oily texture of their powerful muscles and their generally large size make them of great commercial importance as food fish. They travel in schools, feeding on other fish (chiefly herring) and on squid, and migrate between deep and shallow waters. The smaller species rely on the constant rush of water through their gills for sufficient oxygen and will suffocate if motionless. The largest of the family, the enormous (up to 3/4 ton/680 kg) tunas, are among the few warm-blooded fishes, due to the constant operation of their huge banks of muscles. Of the smaller members of the family, the Atlantic, or common, mackerel, Scomber scombrus, found in colder waters off North America and Europe, is one of the smallest (11/2 lb/0.675 kg average). Despite its size, the annual catch is 50 million lb (22.5 million kg), which is marketed fresh, salted, and canned. Intermediate between the Atlantic mackerel and the bonitos (see tuna) are the frigate mackerels, found in warm seas. Spotted species found off the Florida and Gulf coasts include the Spanish, painted, and Sierra mackerels, averaging 10 to 15 lb (4.5-6.7 kg). Other species are the king mackerel, also called kingfish and cero (up to 60 lb/27 kg); the chub mackerel, similar to the Atlantic mackerel; and the cosmopolitan and more solitary wahoo, or peto. Related to the mackerels are the escolars and rabbit fishes of Mediterranean and Cuban waters and the cutlass, or scabbard, fish, a degenerate eellike offshoot of the mackerels, found off the coast of Florida. Mackerels are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Osteichthyes, order Perciformes, family Scombridae.
Mackerel is a common name applied to a number of different species of fish, mostly, but not exclusively, from the family Scombridae. They occur in all tropical and temperate seas. Most live offshore in the oceanic environment but a few, like the Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus), enter bays and can be caught near bridges and piers. Common features of mackerels are a slim, cylindrical shape (as opposed to the tunas which are deeper bodied) and numerous finlets on the dorsal and ventral sides behind the dorsal and anal fins. The scales are extremely small, if present. The largest species called "mackerel" is the king mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla) which can grow to 66 inches (1.68 m). A female mackerel lays about 500,000 eggs at a time.

Shearwater, tuna, dolphins, whales, orca, seagulls, marlins, sharks, and humans may hunt mackerels. Mackerels are prized (and are highly harvested) for their meat, which is often very oily. They are known for their fighting ability, and are an important recreational and commercial fishery. The meat can spoil quickly, especially in the tropics, causing scombroid food poisoning - it must be eaten on the day of capture, unless cured. For this reason, mackerel is the only common salt-cured sushi. Mackerel fishery is well established in India, the species caught is usually Rastrelliger kanagurta.

In the U.S. federal prison system, mackerel fillets are used as a standard currency among prisoners.

Species whose common name includes "mackerel"

Family Scombridae

Family Carangidae

Family Hexagrammidae

Family Gempylidae

Use as an adjective

"Mackerel" is also used as an adjective in the vernacular names of other animals or breeds thereof, often used to indicate types with a mackerel-like pattern of vertical stripes:


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