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  • Dut: Gewone makreel (makreel)
  • Lat: Scomber scombrus
  • Eng: Mackerel
  • Ger: Makrele
  • Fren: Maquereau (maquereau de l'Atlantique)
  • Dan: Makrel
  • Nor: Makrell
Mackerel, © Biopix: JC Schou


Most people are familiar with mackerel from the fish store, and particularly as a smoked fish. Live mackerel are rapid predator fish and eat mainly zooplankton. In the summer months, they swim in large schools in the upper water column, hunting copepods, fish larvae and other such organisms. After spawning in the summer, they also hunt herring, sprat and lesser sandeel, bringing them closer to the coast. There have been reports of schools of mackerel 9 by 4 kilometers in size and 40 meters deep.

  • 'Winter hibernation'

    As the seawater cools off, mackerel sink to the sea bottom and go into a kind of winter hibernation; they eat very little.

  • Rapid swimmers

    Mackerel have no swimming bladder. This allows them to dive quickly in deep water or to rise rapidly to the surface. They are exceptionally fast swimmers and need lots of oxygen. Therefore, they must constantly swim around to assure sufficient oxygen-rich water flows through their gills. The total surface of the gills is 10 times greater than the surface of their whole body.

  • Reproduction

    Mackerel are sexually mature at the end of their third year. The females lay around 1250 eggs per gram body weight in the summer months. Each egg contains a drop of oil, allowing it to float around 7 to 9 meters under the water surface. After four days, the egg hatches and the larva begins its plankton life.

  • Distribution
    Distribution of the mackerel, Ecomare

    Mackerel residing in the northeast Atlantic waters can be divided into several populations - western, North Sea and southern populations. The latter is important for Spain and Portugal but not for the Netherlands. The North Sea population spawns in May and June in the central North Sea and overwinters close to the sea floor in the waters near Scotland, in the English Channel and in Skagerak. The western population is by far the largest. This group spawns south of Ireland from March till June and migrates afterwards to the northern North Sea. This mackerel population is the most important one for the Dutch trawlers which fish in the waters west of the British Islands.

  • How healthy is the mackerel stock?
    Spawning stock and yield of mackerel (North Sea), Ecomare

    Dutch fishermen don't just catch mackerel in the North Sea. They also fish in the northeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean. More than 4 million tons of adult mackerel swam in these two areas in 2015. This is well above the safe minimum level for this species. Every year, the large trawlers catch between 0.5 and 0.8 million tons of mackerel. The mackerel stock has maintained a reasonable level with such a yearly yield since 1980.