Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) & King Mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla)
The Atlantic mackerel is well known in angling circles across nearly all the world’s oceans. They also go by other names such as; Boston mackerel, Norwegian mackerel, Scottish mackerel or just simply mackerel. Atlantic mackerel are small but long fish who commonly school in large numbers out in deeper water. The scales of this mackerel are small and loose allowing for fast and flexible swimming. The coloration of these scales is a steely blue with black and silver lines along the fish’s flanks. Atlantic mackerel, although smaller in size, have several different types of dorsal fin and a large powerful tail fin that allows both sustained and quick bursts of speed.
King mackerel are the largest members of the mackerel family found in the Atlantic Ocean. They are also known as kingfish and are a migratory species of game fish that is highly sought after, but only occasionally caught off the coast of New Jersey. King mackerel also have smaller loose scales that are olive in color on their backs that then fade out to silver scales on the flanks of the fish. Immature King mackerel have noticeable brown spots on the white underside that fade away when the fish fully matures.
Both species of mackerel are highly important to the ecosystems they inhabit around the world, but specifically along the East Coast of America being one of the most highly desirable catches among the game fish species. A less common mackerel that inhabits the water’s off New Jersey is the Atlantic chub mackerel (Scomber colias), which is smaller than the Atlantic mackerel and seldom caught for sport.
Management is similar for both the Atlantic and King mackerel because both species are considered a least concern as far as population numbers of mackerel are concerned. In New Jersey specifically, there are no limits on the amount of Atlantic mackerel that can be fished due to the fish’s low mercury count when eaten by humans. King mackerel are slightly different in that their migratory routes rarely take the species above North Carolina and therefore are not present enough off the coast of New Jersey for a management plan to be put in place by the state.
Atlantic mackerel are among the smallest members of the mackerel species, reaching lengths of about 12 inches at most. Occasionally, mackerel over a foot can be caught. The New Jersey fishing record for largest Atlantic mackerel caught in the state is four pounds and one ounce.
King mackerel are among the largest species in the mackerel family with only the wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) known to reach a larger size. King mackerel grow to a full length of around four feet, and the New Jersey fishing record for biggest King mackerel in the state was a 54-pound fish.
Atlantic mackerel commonly school in large numbers. This is in order to better prey on tiny plankton that rise to the surface in the billions across the Atlantic Ocean. Mackerel are also known to split off alone to hunt larger prey items such as smaller eels, even smaller mackerel and anchovy fish that the 12-inch mackerel can easily track and devour. The best bait to use for these smaller mackerel are pieces of other mackerel or strips of sand eel. Similar artificial lures will also do the trick.
King mackerel are a bit easier to catch because of the numerous prey items these large mackerels hunt in the open ocean. They chase after squid and larger fish that fall into the anchovy family as well. Squid would be the choice bait to use when trying to lure one of these prize fish in. However, be warned that since King mackerel are rarer in New Jersey, it may be more likely that a more common New Jersey native fish hooks onto the line.
Atlantic mackerel are deep sea ocean dwelling fish, and therefore must be chased out in deep water. This usually means an angler must book passage on a deep-sea fishing vessel. None the less, Atlantic mackerel have also been known to come closer to shore during the spawning season and can be caught off piers and even in the surf if conditions allow. The best way to snag an Atlantic mackerel is to fix a lure or a strip of sand eel on the line and troll the bottom to pick off singular fish instead of chasing after schools of mackerel.
King mackerel are a bit more difficult to catch because of their massive size, but easier because just about any anchovy or squid-based bait can be used to lure in one of these magnificent fish. King mackerel must also be trolled, but that is because they spend a lot of time away from the ocean’s surface in order to hunt. A stronger and flexible rod is also recommended due to the powerful tail fin of the King mackerel and the fish’s ability to put up a fight on the line.
Atlantic mackerel spawn in the spring and summer months and must come close to shore in order to do so. Female Atlantic mackerel are known to lay over 450,000 eggs during one spawning season. The hatching of the mackerel’s eggs depends upon the temperature of the water at the time shortly following spawning. In water that is near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, hatching of Atlantic mackerel eggs can take as little as two days. When the water temperature is cooler and closer to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the eggs can take as long as 8 days to hatch. Full sexual maturity of the Atlantic mackerel is achieved at two years old. Individuals are known to live up to 17 years old.
The reproductive cycle of King mackerel is slightly different than that of its’ smaller cousin because the egg and sperm of the King mackerel meet by chance after being dispensed into the sea by both the male and female. Once an egg has been fertilized it will hatch within 24 hours. Little is known about the first year of life for a new born King mackerel, but sexual maturity develops once the fish has reached at least two feet in length.
Atlantic mackerel are found in open ocean because of their schooling habits when targeting plankton. This means that these smaller mackerel school close to the surface in order to catch the plankton, and inhabit the deeper waters in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea. In New Jersey, Atlantic mackerel can be found schooling throughout the state’s offshore waters.
King mackerel are considered a subtropical species of mackerel and migrate each season between waters of the North Carolina coast down to Florida and even off the coast of Texas within the Gulf of Mexico. They are occasionally caught off the shore of New Jersey and are highly sought for, season after season by anglers.