Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus

The Spanish Mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, whose common Spanish name is sierra común, is one of the most common members of the Mackerel or Scombridae Family, known collectively as macarelas in Mexico. Globally there are eighteen species in the genus Scomberomorus, five of which are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.

The Spanish Mackerels have elongated, strongly compressed, fusiform, and torpedo-shaped bodies. They are greenish-blue dorsally and transition to silvery white ventrally and on their lower sides. Their first dorsal fin is black. Their sides have three or four rows of numerous elliptical yellow to bronze spots with larger fish having more spots than smaller fish. Their head has a short pointed snout and a modest-sized mouth that extends to the rear margin of the eyes and is equipped with a single row of large, uniformly-sized, closely-spaced teeth on each jaw. Their anal fin does not have spines but they have 16 to 20 rays and is followed by either 8 or 9 finlets; their caudal fin is deeply forked with one large and two smaller keels at its base; their two dorsal fins are set close together, the first being low with 17 to 19 spines and the second being higher and similar in shape to the anal fin with 17 to 20 rays followed by 8 or 9 finlets; and their pectoral fins are short. They have 11 to 16 gill rakers. Their body is covered with small scales and their lateral line gradually curves down toward the caudal fin base.

The Spanish Mackerels are a coastal pelagic schooling species found in the subtropical and tropical waters off North America and the Caribbean. They are found from the surface to depths of 115 feet with water temperatures between 20oC (68oF) and 30oC (86oF) and travel in large schools near the surface and close to shore. They are dimorphic with females living longer and being larger than males. Females reach a maximum 1.01 meters (3 feet 4 inches) in length and 5.9 kg (13 pounds) in weight and have lifespans of up to eleven years; males reach a maximum of 48 cm (19 inches) in length and have lifespans of up to six years. They make long seasonal migrations very close to shore moving northward during the summer when water temperatures increase and return in the fall. Juveniles grow rapidly until age five, then experience slower growth. They are voracious opportunistic predators and consume small fish including anchovies, clupeids, and herrings as well as cephalopods and shrimp on a limited basis. They are preyed upon by larger pelagic fish including sharks and tuna, marine mammals including bottlenose dolphins, and various sea birds. Reproduction is oviparous with each female broadcasting gametes into the water column that are quickly fertilized by males. Eggs are pelagic and generally hatch within twenty-five hours.

In Mexican waters the Spanish Mackerels are found in all waters of the Atlantic but only on a seasonal basis.

The Spanish Mackerel is very similar in appearance to the Cero Mackerel, Scomberomorus regalis (yellow-orange stripe along mid-flank), the small King Mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla (first portion of dorsal fin not black; abrupt drop in lateral line mid-body), and the Serra Spanish Mackerel, Scobmeromorus brasiliensis (absent from Mexican waters, found in Belize waters. It is also virtually identical to the Gulf Sierra, Scomberomorus concolor and the Pacific Sierra, Scomberomorus sierra, both found only in the Pacific.

The Spanish Mackerels are a highly sought after commercial and recreational fish. Commercially, they are caught primarily with purse seines at levels of 10,000 tons per annum in the southeast United States as the use of drift gill nets was banned in 1989. They are strong foes for anglers and caught from boats via trolling or from drifting boats, piers, jetties and beaches with jigs, spoons, and live bait with the use of wire leaders being essential. They are considered to have a high food value. In the United States they are closely monitored and heavily regulated with seasonal closures and daily bag and length limits, however, they are totally unregulated in Mexico. They are sold fresh for use in sushi, frozen and smoked, however, they have a very short shelf-life and are known to contain Cigua Toxin. I recommend that these fish be consumed the day of catch or not at all. From a conservation perspective they are currently classified of Least Concern, with stable populations.

Spanish Mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatusFish caught from coastal waters off Tampa, FL, April 2011. Length: 34 cm (13 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Ryan Crutchfield, Tampa, FL.

Spanish Mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus. Fish caught from coastal waters off Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida, December 2013.  Length: 36 cm (14 inches). Catch, photo and identification courtesy of Kenneth Tse, Toronto, Canada.

Spanish Mackerel (1)Spanish Mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus. Fish caught off a coastal waters off Tampa, Florida, December 2013. Length: 46 cm (18 inches). Catch, photo, and identification courtesy of Ben Cantrell, Peoria, IL.