Scomber scombrus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Purse seine
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Southern, Western & North Sea
Stock detail — EU & Norway (MINSA)
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Mackerel

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

To ensure the mackerel you buy is as sustainable as possible only source fish caught locally using traditional methods including handlines, ringnets and drift nets and from the MINSA North East Atlantic mackerel fishery, certified in May 2016 as a well managed and sustainable fishery in accordance with the MSC's Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing.


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 kg.They may live for more than 20 years.

Stock information

Stock Area

Southern, Western & North Sea

Stock information

Northeast Atlantic (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. Catch and survey data from recent years indicate that the stock has expanded northwestwards 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.

The spawning component of the stock has increased considerably since 2002 and remains high, above all required levels of sustainability. The results of the most recent egg survey (Spring 2013) indicate the stock has increased substantially, showing a doubling of the stock since 2004 and a 30% increase between 2010 and 2013. The North Sea component, however, has been long depleted and requires maximum possible protection and the recommendation is that measures to protect this component remain in place.

Based on the most recent scientific advice (September 2016), the stock is assessed as having full reproductive capacity. Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) is estimated to have increased since the early 2000s and has been above MSY-Btrigger since 2009. The fishing mortality (F) has been declining from high levels in the mid-2000s but remains above FMSY. There has been a succession of large year classes since the early 2000s and all year classes since 2005 (except for the 2013 year class) are estimated to be above average.

ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, catches in 2017 should be no more than 857 185 tonnes (667 385 tonnes in 2016; between 831 000 tonnes and 906 000 tonnes in 2015; 927 000 tonnes and 1,011,000 tonnes in 2014; 497,000 and 542,000 t in 2013).


Since the introduction of the coastal states agreement in the mid 90's between the EU, Norway and Faroe Islands, the management of this stock has evolved into a successful, science-based plan with fishing effort set at a sustainable level.
The management plan for the NEA mackerel stock, evaluated by ICES as precautionary, was agreed by Norway, Faroe Islands, and the EU in October 2008.

Until recently much of the commercial mackerel fishery in the northeast Atlantic was certified as an environmentally responsible fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). However, since 2009, there has been no international agreement on Total Allowable Catch.
The stock has been targeted by Icelandic and Faroese fleets who have set autonomous quotas outside any agreement. More recently Greenland has established an experimental fishery with no management measures in place. As a result the MSC certification was suspended in 2012 when agreement on international fishing effort could not be reached.
An action plan, aimed at solving the ongoing dispute in the North East Atlantic, was submitted to the MSC by the Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance (MINSA), a group of the 7 MSC certified mackerel fisheries, whose certificates were suspended as a result of the impasse. In March 2014 a 5-year agreement was reached between the coastal states, EU, Norway and Faroes. This agreement will re-establish a long-term management plan for the fishery based on scientific advice from ICES to ensure its sustainable exploitation. The agreement includes sharing arrangements for North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) for Russia and the High Seas, along with provisions for Iceland in 2014.

More recently in July 2014 over 700 mackerel fishing vessels from Scotland, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden, have joined together under the MINSA umbrella to enter MSC reassessment, the largest ever international collaborative approach for such certification this side of the Atlantic.
The MINSA North East Atlantic mackerel fishery, formed of 7 fisheries previously engaged in the MSC programme independently, was certified in May 2016 as a well managed and sustainable fishery in accordance with the MSC's Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing. 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. Due to the cost of maintaining it a decision not to renew its certification was made in February 2012.

Capture Information

Over 95% of the Northeast Atlantic mackerel catch originates from purse seiners and midwater trawlers, with the remainder coming from coastal purse seiners and handline vessels. Pelagic trawling, like purse seining, is an efficient form of fishing capable of removing large quantities of fish in one haul. Juvenile mackerel are protected within the Mackerel Box off the Cornish coast and in the South Western Approaches, in which there is a ban on targeted fishing for mackerel by trawlers and purse seiners and where a handline fishery operates with a separate quota allocation. The minimum landing size for mackerel in EU waters is 20cm (30cm in North Sea). Mackerel is mainly exploited in a directed fishery for human consumption. This fishery tends to target bigger fish and there is evidence of discarding of smaller, less marketable fish; however this is now considered by ICES to be at very low levels, 1.7% is estimated, but might be higher.

ICES Advice 2015, Book 9;