Scomber scombrus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Handline
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters
Stock detail — South West England
Picture of Mackerel

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Updated: October 2019

Owing to changes in ICES assessment methodology and data, the North East Atlantic mackerel fishery now appears to be in a much better state than in October 2018. As of October 2019, the stock is in a healthy state and fishing pressure is a little above sustainable limits (above FMSY but below Fpa). However, management is not cohesive, with major states unable to reach agreement on long term strategies or catch limits. As a result, MCS has decided to rate some of the major states separately, to highlight where differences in approach by some states are of significant concern. The handline fishery in the southwest of England is particularly selective and has its own ‘ring-fenced’ quota allocation. Therefore, management of this component of the stock is considered to be relatively good.


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 1000 m (though more normally in depths of 0-200 m). 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 degrees and 14 degrees 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 adults feed very actively, moving around in small shoals. By 3 years old, most mackerel are mature (at a length of approximately 28 cm). Females shed their eggs in about twenty separate batches over the course of the spawning season. Juvenile mackerel grow quickly and can reach 22 cm after one year, and 30cm after 2 years. Mackerel can attain a maximum length of about 70 cm and weight of 3.4 may live for more than 20 years.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel is in a good state, but fishing pressure is slightly above sustainable levels. The stock assessment of mackerel changed regularly during 2018 and 2019, and the following is based on the most recent scientific advice (October 2019).

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) is estimated to have increased in the late 2000s to reach a peak of 5,229,726 tonnes in 2014 and has been declining since then, but has remained above MSY Btrigger (2,500,000 t) since 2008. The estimated SSB in 2018 was 4,279,185t. The fishing mortality (F) has declined from high levels in the mid-2000s, and is now only just above FMSY (0.23): in 2018 it was 0.24. Recent recruitment has been strong: there has been a succession of large year classes since the early 2000s, with year classes since 2011 estimated to be above average.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2020 should be no more than 922,064 tonnes. This is a 20% increase in the advice given in May 2019, which was itself a 40% increase in the advice given for 2018. The most recent two stock assessments (May 2019 and October 2018) have included:
a re-benchmarking of the stock,
an upward revision of the stock size, which in 2018 was thought to be below MSY Btrigger,
a downward revision of F, now closer to FMSY,
and a new FMSY value (0.23), slightly higher than the previous one from 2018 (0.21), based on changes in methodology and the time-series of the data.
In addition, the highest ever recruitment of young fish into the fishery is expected in 2020.
The assessment is very sensitive to input data and model settings so there is some uncertainty and instability in it.

NEA mackerel is assessed as one stock but comprises three spawning components: the combined southern and western components and a separate North Sea spawning component. Only the North Sea component is sufficiently distinct to be clearly identified as a separate spawning component. The results of recent egg surveys indicate a decrease in the relative importance of the southern component (from 24% of the mackerel stock in 2013 to 10% in 2017). While the biomass of the western component estimated by the 2016 egg survey also decreased in the same period, its relative contribution to the mackerel stock increased from 73% to 83%. The biomass of the North Sea component, as estimated by the egg survey, increased in 2017, and this component is now estimated to represent 7% of the spawning stock. The triennial egg survey will provide new data for the 2020 assessment.

Catch and survey data from recent years indicate that the stock has expanded north-westwards during spawning and the summer feeding migration. This distributional change may reflect changes in food availability and may be linked to increased water temperature, and/or increased stock size.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

There is no long-term management strategy for Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel agreed by all international parties involved in the fishery, there is no internationally agreed quota, recent catches have been substantially above scientific advice, and fishing mortality has been above FMSY since 1985. However, in South-West England, the handline fishery has a ring-fenced quota accounting for a small proportion of the total fishery. This component of the fishery is considered to be relatively well-managed. Juvenile mackerel are protected within an area known as the Mackerel Box, off the Cornish coast in the South Western Approaches, created in 1981 and extended in 1989. In the Mackerel Box there is a ban on targeted fishing for mackerel by trawlers and purse seiners; handliners are the only fishermen allowed to target mackerel.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

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 7e,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 an area known as 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.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Anchovy, anchovies
Arctic char
Herring or sild
Horse Mackerel, Scad
Kingfish, yellowtail
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin


Anon. 2017. Agreed record of conclusions of fisheries consultations between Norway, the European Union and the Faroe Islands on the management of mackerel in the Northeast Atlantic for 2018, London, 11 October 2017. 8 pp. Available at: [Accessed on 22.05.2019].

Gaudian, G., Nichols, j., and Cappell, R. 2016. MSC Sustainable Fisheries Certification MINSA North East Atlantic Mackerel Fishery (Europe). Public Certification Report April 2016 Prepared For: MINSA North East Atlantic Mackerel. Prepared By: Acoura Marine Ltd. Available at: [Accessed on 22.05.2019].

ICES. 2019. Norway special request for revised 2019 advice on mackerel (Scomber scombrus) in subareas 1-8 and 14, and in Division 9.a (the Northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, sr.2019.09, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.5252. Available at: [Accessed on 22.05.2019].

ICES. 2019. Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) in subareas 1-8 and 14, and in Division 9.a (the Northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, mac.27.nea, Available at [Acessed on 01.10.2019].

Jansen, T. and Gislason, H., 2013. Population Structure of Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus). PLoS One, 8: 1-10. [Accessed on 22.05.2019].

Lassen, H., and Midteide, S. 2019. Expedited audit of the Faroese Pelagic Organisation North East Atlantic mackerel fishery Felagi taskip, Faroese Pelagic Organization. Report No.: 2019-001, Rev. Date: 31.01.2019 Certificate number: F-DNV-202426 [Accessed on 22.05.2019].