Although it’s available year-round, some buyers recommend buying Atlantic mackerel in the fall from the trap fisheries off New England because this fish has high oil content after a summer of feeding. Atlantic mackerel is sold fresh, frozen, smoked or salted whole, in fillets, headed and gutted, and as steaks. This fish's flesh is firm, has a high oil content, and a strong savory taste. Mackerel are an excellent substitution for other fish with high oil content such as salmon, tuna, or bluefish, and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. Like tuna, mackerel must be handled properly because lack of ice or refrigeration can lead to a higher risk of scromboid poisoning.
Atlantic mackerel is a fast-growing fish that’s also highly migratory, helping it withstand fishing pressure.
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service reports that Atlantic mackerel are at 257% above the target level. However, it has been reported that while they’re not being overfished, Atlantic mackerel in Europe are being harvested outside of safe biological limits.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Most Atlantic mackerel is caught between Maine and New Jersey using purse seines or trawl nets, according to the New England Aquarium. Purse seines allow for a targeted catch because fishermen can easily locate and identify the fish they’re seeking. Pelagic and mid-water trawl nets are less impactful on the marine environment than bottom trawl nets, significantly reducing habitat destruction, according to the NEA.
The extent of marine mammal bycatch in the Atlantic mackerel fishery is unclear. Bycatch from purse seining and trawling has not been a major issue. The National Marine Fisheries Service notes that while the Atlantic mackerel fishery has minimal interaction with sea turtles, interactions with other marine mammals have been recorded. It has been reported that mortalities and injuries of marine mammals in the Atlantic mackerel fishery exceeded 50% of the potential biological removal of the species. Observers reported dolphin mortalities in the fishery between 1977 and 1991, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium cautions that observer coverage in the fishery is low. Mammal bycatch has been declining, in part due to a shift away from bottom otter trawls, but remains a moderate concern, according to a Monterey Bay Aquarium report from 2011. Atlantic mackerel’s midwater trawl fisheries catch nontargeted fish such as river herring, dogfish, and shortfin squid, but the level of this bycatch is considered small and causes little concern.
Atlantic mackerel stocks in the U.S. collapsed in the late 1970s due to overfishing that began occurring in the late 1960s, but effective management helped them recover to abundant, very healthy levels. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council currently does not have a bycatch management plan for the Atlantic mackerel fishery but is working on one.