Spanish Mackerel

Last updated: February 13, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Peter Leahy/Shutterstock.com

Spanish mackerel typically live to the age of 12, but there have been cases of these fish living as long as 25 years!


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Spanish Mackerel Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Actinopterygii
Order
Scombriformes
Family
Scombridae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Spanish Mackerel Conservation Status

Spanish Mackerel Locations

Spanish Mackerel Locations

Spanish Mackerel Facts

Name Of Young
Larvae
Group Behavior
  • School
Fun Fact
Spanish mackerel typically live to the age of 12, but there have been cases of these fish living as long as 25 years!
Biggest Threat
Humans pose a significant threat to Spanish mackerel, as overfishing of this species nearly led to their demise.
Most Distinctive Feature
Silvery elongated body
Average Spawn Size
500 000 to 1.5 million
Predators
Tuna, whales, dolphins , sharks, and sea lions
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
Spanish mackerel
Number Of Species
20
Location
Florida coasts and the Gulf of Mexico

Spanish Mackerel Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Silver
Age of Sexual Maturity
2 years

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The Spanish mackerel is a popular catch for recreational and commercial fishing and are primarily found in large numbers on the coasts of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. These fish are easily distinguished by their elongated, streamlined silver bodies, with a dark green stripe bordering the tops of their bodies and yellow spots scattered across each side. Spanish mackerels prefer swimming in large groups called schools and are fast swimmers.

These fish migrate south from the north Atlantic coast to Mexico during winter. However, there are various species that occur all over the world. They are carnivores and typically prey on sardines, menhaden, and anchovies. However, they are also preyed upon by sharks, dolphins, and humans.

Spanish mackerels are sought-after by commercial and sports fishers due to their delicious meat, which is easy to cook and versatile. These mackerels are divine grilled, fried, baked, and smoked. In addition, it is used raw in sushi in many countries, including Japan.

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Three Amazing Spanish Mackerel Facts!

  • These fish are incredibly fast and can reach an average speed of 18 feet per second.
  • Female Spanish mackerels can lay thousands of eggs at a time and between 500 000 to 1.5 million eggs throughout the spawning season.
  • They like to swim in large schools for protection that can stretch up to 20 miles wide.

Spanish Mackerel Scientific Name

Scientific names will vary depending on the species. For example, the Atlantic Spanish mackerel’s binomial name is Scomberomorus maculatus. It belongs to the order Scombriformes, consisting of nine bony fish families.

Spanish mackerel are members of the Scombridae family, which includes well-known fish like tuna and bonitos. Additionally, this family contains some of the most popular sport and food fishes. Furthermore, Scombridae also boasts some of the fastest fishes in the world, like the bluefin tuna, which is also the largest of the bony fishes.

Spanish Mackerel Appearance

While the various species differ in shape, coloration, and size, they generally have the same torpedo-shaped bodies with short finlets before their tail fins. Additionally, they have silver bodies with spots or stripes. They vary in size between 1 to 8 feet long and weigh between 1 to 180 pounds.



Spanish mackerel isolated

Spanish mackerels vary in size and weight.

©IrinaK/Shutterstock.com

Spanish Mackerel Behavior

These fish are generally found in large schools that measure around 20 miles wide. They hunt by forcing small schools of fish into tight groups at the water’s surface. Spanish mackerels are agile and fast swimmers, reaching average speeds of 18 feet per second. They are a migratory species and migrate south during spring to the northern regions of the Gulf of Mexico. Then, when fall comes around, they swim back to the eastern Gulf of south Florida and the western Gulf to Mexico.

Spanish Mackerel Habitat

Spanish mackerel are found across the globe, with large populations on the Florida coast and the Gulf of Mexico. They typically inhabit shallow waters and ocean bottoms. They usually live at depths of 10 to 40 feet but are often found at depths of 80 feet. While these mackerels mainly occur in open water, they have been found over reefs, deep seagrass beds, and shallow estuaries.

Spanish Mackerel Diet

The Spanish mackerel usually preys on:

  • Sardines
  • Needlefish
  • Herring
  • Mullet
  • Anchovies
  • Menhaden
  • Shrimps
  • Squids

When hunting, they will force small schools of fish into tight groups at the surface of the water while feeding on them.

Spanish Mackerel Predators and Threats

Spanish mackerels are preyed on by many predators depending on their location, including:

However, their primary predators are dolphins and sharks. Humans pose a significant threat to Spanish mackerel, as overfishing of this species nearly led to their demise. Commercial overfishing of their prey species also poses a massive threat to their survival. In addition, pollution is a big threat to their population size. But, for now, they are listed as a Least Concern on the ICUN’s Redlist.

Spanish Mackerel Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Spanish mackerel reach sexual maturity at the age of two. Additionally, they spawn between the months of April and September. Spawning takes place in the Northern hemisphere and occurs at night. However, the Atlantic Spanish mackerel prefer to spawn off North Carolina and Virginia coast and prefers shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Females lay their eggs in clumps throughout the spawning season and can produce between 500 000 to 1.5 million eggs per season. After fertilization, the eggs take around 25 hours to hatch in warm water and 120 hours in colder water.

Lifespan

Spanish mackerel typically live to the age of 12, but there have been cases of these fish living as long as 25 years!

Spanish Mackerel Population

It’s hard to determine the population size for Spanish mackerel as there as so many species distributed all over the globe.

Similar Tasting Species

As mentioned above, Spanish mackerel is delicious and highly in demand, but if you cannot get your hands on this fish, there are several species that make suitable replacements, including:

Herring

Herring is famous for being smoked or pickled and is a great fish to persevere. This method is popular in countries like Poland, Russia, Netherlands, Great Britain, and Scandinavia. In fact, pickled herring is a must-have holiday dish served on Christmas Eve in Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. Furthermore, it is considered good luck to serve herring on New Year’s Eve in the Czech Republic, Germany, Scandinavia, and Poland, as it symbolizes prosperity. Additionally, smoked herring is common in Ireland, Egland, the Caribbean, and certain areas of North America. It is generally cold-smoked for extended periods, enough to tint its flesh red.

There are numerous ways to prepare this fish, like frying, roasting, boiling, smoking, pickling, and grilling. Pickled or smoked herring makes an excellent accompaniment to an appetizer spread and is usually served with breakfast in Scandinavian countries.

It is essential to cook fresh herring properly, or it gets pungent really quickly. However, while it is filleted fresh for grilling, frying, or baking, most herring is preserved for consumption. Pickled herring is easy to make and only requires a salt, vinegar, and sugar mix, along with some onions, peppercorns, and bay leaves.

When baking the fish whole, try stuffing it with herbs and spices of your choice. Coating it in breadcrumbs and frying it is also a good option, but it does overpower the fresh taste. Grilling this fish is also a good choice as long as it is filleted and appropriately marinated with oil, salt, and pepper.

American Shads

American shad has a sardine-like flavor that is very distinctive; it’s salty, sweet, and delightfully fishy. Its texture enhances the flavor and is most enjoyable when filleted. When biting into this fish, it is oily yet hardy, and this silky sensation melts like butter in the mouth. However, this fish does not come without challenges. It’s incredibly hard to fillet this fish because of the bones. Therefore, some cooks suggest cooking it in a pressure cooker until most of the bones dissolve. But, others believe that poaching it in court bouillon and flaking or pressing it through a sieve is the best way to deal with the bones. But, if you choose this method, you will only be able to make fritters, fish cakes, or salad.

The traditional way of preparing American shad is to smoke or grill it on a cedar plank. Smoking enhances the flavor and oiliness of this fish, and it makes it much easier to remove the bones. But filleted American shad is perfect for broiling, frying, sautéing, and grilling.

This fish has so much flavor that it does not need a lot of ingredients to make it pop; by simply sautéing in butter with some lemon juice, you already have a masterpiece.

Sardines

If you don’t like fishy flavor, then sardines are not for you. These minuscule fish are salty, with a firm texture and surprisingly meaty backbone for their size. There is no sauce that will mask their fishy taste that reminds one of the ocean. The best way to eat fresh sardines is by grilling them. Wrap them in fig or grape leaves, and grill the parcel over charcoal with lemon and olive oil. When baking sardines, it’s a good idea to pair them with flavorful sauces like spicy citrus salsa and tomato-based sauces. However, when trying this technique, ensure to split or butterfly the fish first, making it easier to remove the bones. If there are any remaining bones, they will meld with the flesh when cooking.

Another interesting way to prepare sardines is the Mediterranean way of creating ceviche by filleting raw sardines and marinating them in olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. This is a popular method in Mediterranean countries because the ingredients are widely available and sold in fish markets along the waterfronts.

Simply buying canned or jarred sardines is also a great way to add flavor to meals and sauces. For example, you can create an appetizer by placing small fillets on a cracker with tomato and onion, drizzling in olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Furthermore, you can make sardines really crispy by frying them and adding them as a crunch factor in a salad. Additionally, they make great toppings on pizzas or blended into a Sicilian tomato base.

So, while sardines are that popular as a flavor on their own, it enhances flavors in certain dishes and gives recipes an interesting flavor that makes them stand out.

Anchovies

Anchovies are tiny fish that only reach one to four inches long but have been eaten by many cultures around the world for decades. Like sardines, these minuscule fish have an overpowering, salty, fishy flavor. Additionally, they have an umami taste that is only found in foods high in amino acid glutamate. Anchovies are generally filleted, cured, and canned in oil. Many people enjoy anchovies on pizza, and they can also be used to enhance the flavor of sauce, especially tomato-based sauces. In addition, anchovies are typically used to make fish paste, which is delicious on a warm slice of toast with lots of butter.

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About the Author

Chanel Coetzee is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily focusing on big cats, dogs, and travel. Chanel has been writing and researching about animals for over 10 years. She has also worked closely with big cats like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and tigers at a rescue and rehabilitation center in South Africa since 2009. As a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Chanel enjoys beach walks with her Stafford bull terrier and traveling off the beaten path.

Spanish Mackerel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is Spanish mackerel a good fish?

Spanish mackerels are sought-after by commercial and sports fishers due to their delicious meat, which is easy to cook and versatile. It is divine grilled, fried, baked, and smoked. In addition, it is used raw in sushi in many countries, including Japan.

Is Spanish mackerel a tuna?

No, while Spanish mackerels and tuna belong to the same family, they are not the same species.

Is Spanish mackerel strong tasting?

No, Spanish mackerel has a very mild flavor and pairs well with citrus infusions like lime.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. American Oceans, Available here: https://www.americanoceans.org/species/spanish-mackerel/
  2. Guidesly, Available here: https://guidesly.com/fishing/fish-species/atlantic-spanish-mackerel
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_mackerel

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