Mackerel (Scombridae), family of pelagic (open-sea) fishes of class Actinopterygii. The family also includes tunas, albacores, skipjacks, bonitos and ceras. The name mackerel, more commonly used for members of genus Scomber, is also applied to fishes of genus Auxis (bullet and frigate mackerels), genus Scomberomorus (Spanish mackerels) and family Gempylidae (snake mackerels). Three species of true mackerels, genus Scomber, occur in the temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Two of these occur in Canada's coastal waters: in the Atlantic, the chub and Atlantic mackerels; in the Pacific, the chub mackerel.
The Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is an elongated, streamlined fish resembling a miniature tuna. Few exceed 52 cm in length. Located behind the widely spaced dorsal fins and the anal fin are 5 small finlets on the dorsal and ventral surfaces. The chub mackerel (S. japonicus) resembles the Atlantic mackerel but is smaller.
Swiftly swimming mackerel form huge schools in surface waters off coasts facing the open sea. They are highly migratory: those in Canadian Atlantic waters move inshore and northward along the coast as far as Labrador in summer; southward and offshore in late fall. This population is thought to overwinter in deep waters between Sable I and Cape Cod.
In Canadian waters, spawning occurs from late May to July. An average-sized female may produce up to 500 000 buoyant eggs. Mackerel feed primarily on plankton, eating a wide variety of small organisms.
Significance of Fishery
The chub mackerel supports a fishery in California waters but not in Canadian waters. Atlantic mackerel is an important food fish on both sides of the Atlantic and is used fresh, frozen, smoked and salted. In Canadian waters, it is fished commercially from the Bay of Fundy to Labrador, primarily by purse seines, but also by weirs and trap nets. Mackerel are also prized by anglers, particularly in US waters.