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.

Atlantic mackerel is important for commercial and recreational fisheries. This species is caught using trawl, purse seine, weir, gillnet and hook-and-line. Atlantic mackerel are targeted mainly as a bait fish, and many lobster fishermen have licenses for them to use in their lobster traps. The species was heavily fished in the 1960s and 1970s, reaching historically high landings between 1970 and 1976. 

Following the introduction of Canada’s 200-nautical mile jurisdiction, landings declined as foreign boats were no longer allowed in Canada’s coastal waters. Although Canada’s Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Atlantic mackerel is at a historical low, it is still eight times higher than scientific recommendations, meaning we are catching significantly more than is needed to maintain a healthy population. 

Atlantic mackerel harvested using purse seine are listed by most certifications as sustainable seafod.