Atlantic Mackerel | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Atlantic Mackerel

Scomber scombrus

Also known as

Mackerel, split, joey, Boston mackerel


Throughout the northern Atlantic; in the western Atlantic from Newfoundland & Labrador to Cape Hatte


Cold and temperate shelf areas

Feeding Habits

Filter feeder

Conservation Status

Not listed


Order Perciformes (perch-like fish), Family Scombridae (mackerels, tunas and bonitos)


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Atlantic mackerel are a small, abundant forage fish that live across the Northern Atlantic. They have been fished recreationally, commercially and by Indigenous fisheries for hundreds of years. This species is easy to catch because of their annual migrations in towards shore. One community has even turned this into an annual event: a festival in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, called the “Mackerel Toss,” challenges participants to dress up as a fisher and try to toss the most mackerel into a bucket.

These abundant fish are oceanodromous, meaning they migrate throughout the ocean, heading to deeper waters in the winter and moving closer to shore in the spring. They are “batch spawners,” with females releasing eggs five to seven times during the spawning season. The eggs and larvae are “pelagic,” which means they are found in the open ocean, in the upper water column. 

Atlantic mackerel reach sexual maturity at two years of age, when they begin their seasonal migrations. They are estimated to live up to 12 years, and are a “diurnal” fish, meaning they are most active during the day. They feed mainly on zooplankton and small fish, but will consume prey such as squid and fish similar to their size as they get larger.