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Scomber scombrus

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Handline
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Southern, Western & North Sea
Stock detail - South West
Accreditation -
Fish type - Oily fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is a good sustainable fish to eat. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find similar fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

The best choice for mackerel remains fish caught locally using traditional hand lining methods.


Mackerel is a fast swimming species belonging to a group of fish known as the scombrid family, which are related to the tuna. They are found in brackish marine waters in depths of up to 1000m (though normally found in depths of 0-200m). Abundant in cold and temperate shelf areas, they form large schools near the surface. They overwinter in deeper waters but move closer to shore in spring when water temperatures range between 11° and 14°C. Mainly diurnal, they feed on zooplankton and small fish. Mackerel are batch spawners, they spawn mainly in March to July, the eggs and larvae are pelagic. After spawning, the adult feed very actively moving around in small shoals. By 3 years old, most mackerel are mature (at a length of approximately 28cm). Females shed their eggs in about twenty separate batches over the course of the spawning season. Juvenile mackerel grow quickly and can reach 22cm after one year, and 30cm after 2 years. Mackerel can attain a maximum length of about 70cm and weight of 3.4kg.They may live for more than 20 years.

Stock information

Stock area
Southern, Western & North Sea

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Stock information
The combined Northeast Atlantic mackerel is assessed as one stock, but comprises three spawning components (Southern, Western and North Sea). Based on the most recent scientific advice (Sept 2013), the stock is likely increasing steadily. Based on the results of the recent egg survey (Spring 2013) it has increased substantially, showing a doubling of the stock since 2004 and a 30% increase between 2010 and 2013. There is however no information on fishing pressure. The North Sea component, however, has been long depleted and requires maximum possible protection and that measures to protect this component remain in place. ICES advises that landings in 2014 should be no more than 889,886 t. (In 2012 the advice for 2013 was for catches between 497,000 and 542,000 t, corresponding to a catch reduction between 42% and 47% compared to the estimated catches in 2012; In 2011 the advice for 2012 was for catches between 586,000 and 639,000 t). Catches of mackerel have been increasing since 2005 and have been around 900,000 t since 2010.


Since the introduction of the coastal states agreement in the mid 90's between the EU, Norway and Faroe Islands, the long term management plan for this stock has evolved into a successful, science-based management of the stock with fishing effort set at a sustainable level. The Mackerel egg survey, which is performed every 3 years, provided an updated view of the position of the mackerel stock. It was the opinion of the fishing industry that the stock size was being underestimated. Other indicators developed in recent years such as the Nordic Sea Swept Survey and the Norwegian Tagging Programme, although still under development, suggest that since 2010 the mackerel stock has not reduced despite fishing effort being above target. There are also several independent scientific sources that are of the opinion that the current ICES estimation of the stock size is significantly underestimated. ICES are expected to benchmark the mackerel stock in 2014. There is also a joint industry initiative investigating how to better improve the current scientific understanding of the stock. In recent years however, the stock appears to have expanded north and west and is now targeted in much larger numbers by the Icelandic and Faroese fleet. It is not clear why mackerel are appearing further west or whether they will continue to do so in future years. Although part of the mackerel stock now includes Icelandic waters as feeding ground during the summer months, the reproduction of the stock (i.e. the egg production) still takes place in EU waters and the main feeding ground is still the Norwegian Sea. Of concern is the significant increase in the amount of mackerel caught by countries with non-certified fisheries i.e. Iceland and Faroe Islands. In recent years Iceland has declared catches from 363t in 2005 to close to 150,000t in 2011.The autonomously set Icelandic quota now accounts for 23% of the scientifically advised catch opportunities for 2011 and 2012. The Faroe Islands have increased their share in this fishery in 2 years from their agreed share of 4.6% (up to 2009) to 23% in 2011 and 2012. Faroe Islands did so by unilaterally deciding to step out of the mackerel coastal states agreement early 2010. Therefore, both Iceland and Faroe Islands jointly account in 2011 and in 2012 for some 46% of the scientifically advised catch opportunities. The European Union and Norway accuse Iceland and the Faroe Islands of compromising the health of the mackerel resource by setting their quotas too high, collectively totalling about 300,000 metric tons in 2012. The dispute has dragged on for more than three years, with Iceland and the Faroes unilaterally setting their own quotas each year. Numerous rounds of negotiations have failed so far to reach a resolution. This has led to fishing mortality some 200,000 t higher than that stated in the management plan, and agreements on the share of the TAC between all countries fishing mackerel must be reached, in order to maintain a healthy fishery and stock. Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance (MINSA) vessels abide by a code of best practice adhering to quotas and closures that is subject to periodic audits. This is reflected by the fisheries remaining in the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) programme, albeit suspended. Icelandic and Faroe Island mackerel fisheries have not demonstrated similar best practice, nor have they entered the MSC programme. In 2009 a Client Group from Faroes entered MSC assessment for trawl caught mackerel but following assessment in 2010 they failed to meet the required standard. There are currently no management objectives known to ICES scientists for this stock.

Capture information

The handline fishery in southwest England was one of the first fisheries to be certified as an environmentally responsible fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2001. A decision not to renew its certification was made in February 2012 for financial reasons. The fishery is located off the southwest coast of England, from Start Point to Hartland Point within UK territorial waters, this falls within the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) areas VIIe,f,g & h. Most of the fishing occurs within 6-8 nautical miles of shore and targets mackerel from the western component of the stock. The main ports are Newlyn and Looe, with landings also taking place in Plymouth, St Ives, Mevagissey and other ports. The handline method uses either braided twine or strong nylon lines to which hooks are attached. Coloured plastic or feathers are attached to these hooks to attract fish and the line is weighted with lead. Each handline has 25-30 hooks. Since 1998 the fishery has been granted special quota allocation under authority of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). Allocation is set at 1,750 tonnes or 0.83% of the UK quota, whichever is the larger. Up to 150 vessels can be fishing in winter. Most of these are under 10m. Many are 5-8 m single-handed open boats. The minimum landing size for mackerel in EU waters is 20cm (30cm in the North Sea). Juvenile mackerel are protected within the ‘mackerel box’, an area off the Cornish coast in the South Western Approaches, created in 1981 and extended in 1989 ,in which there is a ban on targeted fishing for mackerel by trawlers and purse seiners and where handliners are the only fishermen allowed to target mackerel.

Read more about capture methods

ICES Advice 2013, Book 9

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