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April 17, 2024
Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel

Scomberomorus maculatus

Also Known As
Mackerel, Spotted cybium, Bay mackerel, Spotted mackerel

Population Status

  • There are two stocks of Spanish mackerel: Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. According to the most recent stock assessments:
    • The Gulf of Mexico stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing (2013 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
    • The South Atlantic stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing (2013 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
  • Prior to the 1980s, Spanish mackerel were heavily fished by commercial and recreational fishermen, but the fishery was unregulated. Stocks were below target levels, so managers implemented regulations to manage fishing rates. Today the Spanish mackerel populations are above target population levels.
  • Fishing for Spanish mackerel has increased as fisheries for other species in the South Atlantic have become more restricted.


  • Spanish mackerel have a greenish back with silver sides and belly.
  • They are covered with very tiny scales.
  • They have yellow or olive green oval spots all over. These spots distinguish Spanish mackerel from cero mackerel, which have yellow-gold streaks along their midline.
  • Spanish mackerel can be distinguished from king mackerel by their smaller size and the absence of the lateral line that drops abruptly below the second dorsal fin.


  • Spanish mackerel grow fast, up to 13 pounds, and can live up to 12 years.
  • They are able to reproduce by age 2.
  • There are two distinct populations, one in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Atlantic.
  • They spawn from April to September off the North Carolina and Virginia coasts in the Atlantic Ocean and in shallow coastal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
  • Spanish mackerel release their eggs in batches throughout the spawning season. Females can have 500,000 to 1.5 million eggs over the spawning season.
  • Spanish mackerel swim in large, fast-moving schools.
  • They migrate as the seasons and water temperatures change.
  • Along the Atlantic coast, Spanish mackerel spend the winter off Florida and move northward to North Carolina in early April and to New York in June. As waters cool later in the year, they return south to Florida waters.
  • In the eastern Gulf of Mexico, they migrate to the west of Cape San Blas, Florida. They remain in the northern Gulf of Mexico until September and migrate south along the coast in the fall.
  • Spanish mackerel prey primarily on herring, menhaden, sardines, mullet, needlefish, and anchovy and, to a lesser degree, shrimp, crabs, and squid. They are often seen forcing schools of small fish into tight bundles and nearly pushing them out of the water when feeding.
  • Dolphins and sharks prey on Spanish mackerel.

Where They Live

  • Spanish mackerel is found off the Atlantic coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: NOAA Fisheries