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Species Name:    Scomberomorus maculatus
Common Name:                (Spanish Mackerel)



Kingdom Phylum/Division: Class: Order: Family: Genus:
Animalia Chordata Osteichthyes Perciformes Scombridae Scomberomorus

The Spanish Mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus.  Illustration by Diana Rome Peebles 1998. Courtesy of Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission,
Division of Marine Fisheries.



Species Name:

Scomberomorus maculatus (Mitchill, 1815)

Common Name:
Spanish Mackerel, Atlantic Spanish mackerel

Species Description:
Scomberomorus cavalla, like other scombrid fishes, is elongate, compressed and fusiform. There are 2 dorsal fins, the first of which is triangular in shape and blue-black in color anteriorly. The second

dorsal fin is greenish in color and concave, originating slightly in front of the anal fin, which is similarly shaped and equivalent in size. A series of 7 - 10 (usually 8) finlets lie posterior to both the second dorsal fin and the anal fin (Collette and Nauen 1983). The lateral line curves slightly downward towards the caudal peduncle. The caudal fin is high and lunate, with a narrow caudal peduncle that has a keel. The pectoral fins are relatively long and lack scales. Body color is typically dark blue to blue-green dorsally, silver laterally. The sides are marked with small, yellow to orange oblong spots above the lateral line. The pectoral fins are pale yellow with orange-brown edges, while the anal and ventral fins are white (Berrien and Finan 1977ab).

Scomber maculates Mitchill, 1815;  Cybium maculatum Cuvier, 1829

Potentially Misidentified Species:
The Spanish mackerel is potentially confused with both the cero,  Scomberomorus regalis, and the king mackerel, S. cavalla. It is easily distinguished from the king mackerel by its oblong yellowish spots above the lateral line, which does not curve downward at the second dorsal fin as is observed in king mackerel. The cero is distinguished from the Spanish mackerel by 1 - 2 thin, bronze-colored stripes that run mid-laterally along the body, and by scales on the pectoral fins, a feature absent from both Spanish and king mackerels (Collette and Nauen 1983).

Meristic counts of some key identifying traits:

Spanish Mackerel: Cero:
# Vertebrae 41-43 52-53 47-49
Dorsal Spines: 12-18 17-19 16-18
Dorsal Rays: 15-18 17-20 16-19
Anal Rays: 16-20 17-20 15-20
Pectoral Fin Rays: 21-23 20-23 20-24
Gill Rakers (lower limb): 6-10 8-13 10-14



Regional Occurrence:
In the western Atlantic, Scomberomorus maculatus inhabits coastal waters from the Gulf of Maine to the Yucatan Peninsula (Collette et al. 1978; Godcharles and Murphy 1986). During the summer months, they are commonly found as far north as Chesapeake Bay, while in fall and winter, they are most common in the waters off central and southern Florida. Spanish mackerel typically come closer to beaches and enter the lower reaches of estuaries more often than do king mackerel (Godcharles and Murphy 1986).

Spanish mackerel from as many as 6 geographic areas may mix in the waters off south Florida in the winter months, however, electrophoretic evidence suggests that the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico populations spawn in the northern parts of their respective ranges, in isolation from other populations (Wollam 1970). Further, the Gulf population is distinct from Spanish mackerel captured along the eastern U.S. coast (Skow and Chittenden 1981).

IRL Distribution:
Though not considered common within the IRL, adult Spanish mackerel are sometimes observed around inlet areas. Juveniles may utilize seagrasses as nursery habitat.


Age, Size, Lifespan:
Spanish mackerels live approximately 5-8 years (Kilma 1959; Powell 1975) and may weigh over 12 pounds. Males reach approximately 50 cm fork length (FL), while females reach 70 cm FL (Johnson et al. 1983; Godcharles and Murphy 1986). Powell (1975) reported that females grow faster than males, and that fish of the same age tend to be smaller in the Gulf of Mexico than in the South Atlantic. Schmidt et al. (1993) reported that females live longer and grow larger that males.

Spanish mackerels are not abundant inside the IRL except near inlet mouths; however, they are known to aggregate in large numbers in offshore waters and support a commercial fishery.

Though scombrid fishes are known for high performance locomotion, data are limited on the precise mechanisms that enhance their swimming abilities. Thrust is generated with lift-based swimming whereby the narrow caudal peduncle and high, lunate caudal fin produce more than 90% of the thrust, with few significant lateral movements in other areas of the body.  It has been hypothesized that the finlets on the posterior dorsal and ventral surfaces of scombrids aid locomotion, and may, in fact, be accessory locomotor structures that act to deflect water longitudinally to the area of the keels, where flow is then accelerated (Walters 1962). A study by Nauen and Lauder (2001) supported this hypothesis and showed that finlets do redirect cross-peduncle flow in the horizontal plane.

Spanish mackerel have an extended spawning season (Powell 1975, Schmidt et al. 1993), with ripe females collected from April through September in Florida. Larvae are collected from May through September at locations between Cape Canaveral, Florida north to Cape Fear, North Carolina.  Spawning season begins in April in the Carolinas, June in Chesapeake Bay, and August - September in New Jersey and New York (Earll, 1883). Water temperatures in excess of 25°C, and salinity between 30‰ 36 parts per thousand (ppt) are spawning triggers (Hoese 1907; Beaumariage 1970). Larval collection data indicate that spawning occurs at depths of 12-35 meters over the inner continental shelf (McEachran et al 1980).

Female Spanish mackerel mature in Florida waters by approximately Age 1, when they reach 25 - 35 cm FL. Males mature at a slightly smaller size (Schmidt et al. 1993). Fecundity increases with increasing length and weight (Finucane and Collins unpublished in: Godcharles and Murphy 1986), with females between 35 - 66 cm FL producing between 194,000 to 1.5 million eggs. 

Pelagic eggs measuring 0.9 - 1.3 mm in diameter are round and transparent, containing a single oil droplet. Hatching occurs approximately 25 hours after fertilization at water temperatures averaging 26°C (Smith 1907).

Larvae and early juveniles grow 1.9 mm per day for approximately the first 23 days of life. From 23 - 40 days, growth is accelerated, with young fishes growing as much as 5 mm per day. Thereafter, growth slows to approximately 2.1 mm per day (Schmidt et al. 1993, Peters and Schmidt 1997).  


Earll (1883) reported that Spanish mackerel are rarely reported from waters cooler than 18°C. They are typically collected from waters ranging from 21 - 31 °C (70 - 88 °F). Water temperatures in excess of 25°C triggers spawning in Spanish mackerel (Hoese 1907; Beaumariage 1970). 

Temperature and salinity are governing factors in the geographic distribution of mackerels, with the northern range of Spanish mackerel extending to the 20°C isotherm within the 18m depth contour (Munro 1943; Berrien and Finian 1977a). 

All life history stages of Spanish mackerel typically inhabit waters where salinity fluctuates between 32 - 36 ppt. (Godcharles and Murphy 1986). Spanish mackerel tend to avoid both freshwater and low salinity waters near river mouths (Earl 1883), though it has been documented that some juveniles inhabit waters where salinity has dropped below 18 ppt (Springer and Woodburn 1960). 

Juveniles are collected from low salinity (12.8 - 19.7 ppt) estuaries as well as from high salinity beaches, suggesting that at least some Spanish mackerel utilize estuaries as nursery grounds (Springer and Woodburn 1960).


Trophic Mode:
Spanish mackerel are schooling pelagic carnivores that feed primarily on estuarine-dependent species such as menhaden (Brevoortia sp.) and anchovies (Anchoa), with squid being the most prevalent invertebrate prey (Godcharles and Murphy 1986). Juveniles are primarily piscivorous, with anchovies, menhaden, Spanish sardines, and Atlantic thread herring constituting the bulk of the diet. Less common prey types are mullets (Mugil spp.) and sciaenids.

Typical habitat for Spanish mackerel includes surface waters of nearshore coastal waters and the lower reaches of tidal estuaries and bays where salinity tends to remain above 10 ppt. Typical depth distribution ranges from 10 - 35 meters (33 - 115 feet).

Associated Species:
Juvenile king mackerel sometimes mix with schools of Spanish mackerel (Godcharles and Murphy 1986).

Larvae and juveniles of king mackerel are consumed as prey by species such as the little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus) and dolphin (Coryphaena hippurus). Larger king mackerel are sought after by the little tunny, bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops trucatus) (Cato and Prochaska 1976), and various shark species, including the tiger shark (Galeoverdo cuverie), bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), and dusky shark (C. obscurus) (Bigelow and Schroeder 1948).


Special Status:

Fisheries Importance:

Florida accounts for 78% of the national commercial harvest of Spanish mackerel annually. The bulk of the commercial catch in east central Florida is taken between Cape Canaveral and Palm Beach, Florida (Klima 1959; Powell 1975). On the West coast of Florida, most of the catch is taken south of Tampa Bay and Ft. Myers. The statewide commercial catch of Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, between the years 1987 - 2001 was 65.0 million pounds, with a dollar value of over $28.0 million. Within the 5 county area encompassing the IRL (Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties) the commercial catch of Scomberomorus maculatus accounts for approximately 57% of the statewide total, with a harvest of 37.1 million pounds, and a value in excess of $16.5 million.  This ranks the Spanish mackerel eighth in commercial value within the IRL, and fourth in pounds harvested.  

Figure 1 below shows the dollar value of the Spanish mackerel fishery to IRL counties by year. As shown, commercial catch ranged from a low of $642,494 in 1992 to highs of over $1.3 million in 1988, 1993 and 1995.

St. Lucie and Martin Counties in the southern portion of the IRL account for the bulk of the commercial harvest, with 45% and 27% of the catch respectively (Figure 2). After 1992, a significant portion of the harvest (21%) was taken off Brevard County. From 1987 - 2001, the annual dollar value to St. Lucie County ranged from $244,792 to $750554, averaging $488,167. In Martin County, the annual dollar amount ranged from $106,247 to $549,314, averaging $300,321; and in Brevard County, the annual dollar amount ranged from $18,823 to $568,467, averaging $232,685.

Figure 1. Annual dollar value of the commercial catch of Spanish mackerel to the 5-county
          area of the Indian River Lagoon.

Figure 2. Total Spanish mackerel dollar value and percentage by county for the years
             1987 - 2001.


  Value Value Value Value Value Value 
YEAR ($) ($) ($) ($) ($) to IRL 
 1987 $1,176 $18,823 $8,891 $648,373 $516,041 $1,193,304
 1988 $3,675 $50,306 $16,171 $750,554 $549,314 $1,370,020
 1989 $3,443 $38,172 $45,624 $831,609 $251,029 $1,169,877
 1990 $7,299 $88,667 $110,907 $377,894 $203,108 $787,875
 1991 $3,272 $346,141 $129,558 $666,858 $106,247 $1,252,076
 1992 $4,211 $117,273 $69,490 $256,475 $195,045 $642,494
 1993 $13,593 $198,376 $63,476 $525,208 $526,319 $1,326,972
 1994 $10,093 $172,552 $58,940 $402,688 $553,714 $1,197,987
 1995 $31,300 $251,418 $82,746 $464,227 $531,578 $1,361,269
 1996 $203 $273,010 $117,162 $452,111 $252,445 $1,094,931
 1997 $157 $509,090 $86,836 $371,833 $118,755 $1,086,671
 1998 $228 $568,467 $41,672 $457,931 $147,133 $1,215,431
 1999 $439 $362,295 $62,654 $374,257 $117,856 $917,501
 2000 $172 $301,055 $96,150 $244,792 $170,505 $812,674
 2001 $1,140 $194,628 $97,433 $497,699 $265,728 $1,056,628
Cumulative Totals: $80,401 $3,490,273 $1,087,710 $7,322,509 $4,504,817 $16,485,710

Table 1. Total dollar value of IRL Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus between
          1987 - 2001.


  % % % % %
YEAR Total Total Total Total Total
1987 0.10% 1.58% 0.75% 54.33% 43.24%
1988 0.27% 3.67% 1.18% 54.78% 40.10%
1989 0.29% 3.26% 3.90% 71.09% 21.46%
1990 0.93% 11.25% 14.08% 47.96% 25.78%
1991 0.26% 27.65% 10.35% 53.26% 8.49%
1992 0.66% 18.25% 10.82% 39.92% 30.36%
1993 1.02% 14.95% 4.78% 39.58% 39.66%
1994 0.84% 14.40% 4.92% 33.61% 46.22%
1995 2.30% 18.47% 6.08% 34.10% 39.05%
1996 0.02% 24.93% 10.70% 41.29% 23.06%
1997 0.01% 46.85% 7.99% 34.22% 10.93%
1998 0.02% 46.77% 3.43% 37.68% 12.11%
1999 0.05% 39.49% 6.83% 40.79% 12.85%
2000 0.02% 37.04% 11.83% 30.12% 20.98%
2001 0.11% 18.42% 9.22% 47.10% 25.15%

                Table 2. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the Spanish mackerel
                       harvest for the years 1987-2001.


  Volusia Brevard Indian River  St. Lucie Martin
Dollars $80,401 $3,490,273 $1,087,710 $7,322,509 $4,504,817
% 0.5% 21.2% 6.6% 44.4% 27.3%

        Table 3. By-county cumulative dollar value and percentage of total for the Spanish
                 mackerel harvest from 1987 - 2001.

Spanish mackerel are also prized as an excellent recreation species. (NMFS 2005; Godcharles and Murphy 1986). Recreational anglers harvest Spanish mackerel seasonally throughout Florida's coastal zone, with the bulk of the catch taken in east central Florida, and along the Gulf coast (FWRI unpubl.). Total landings in Florida for Spanish mackerel in 2001 were 7.3 million pounds, with the recreational catch accounting for 59% of this total (FWRI unpbl.).

The information below reflects angler survey information taken from the 5-county area that encompasses the Indian River Lagoon. Over 2 million Spanish mackerel, the bulk of the recreational harvest (73.5%), was taken in coastal waters from the shoreline to 3 miles offshore. Catches in waters 3 to 200 miles offshore account for 9.3% of the total recreational catch, while inland waters other than the Indian River Lagoon account for 8.0% of the catch. The Indian River Lagoon accounted for 9.2% of the total recreational harvest between 1997 and 2004, with approximately 256,000 Spanish mackerel captured.  

 Figure 3. Survey data for the Spanish mackerel recreational fishery showing the number
             of fishes harvested in East Florida waters from 1997 - 2004.

 Figure 4. Summary of the Spanish mackerel recreational harvest and percentage of total
             by area from 1997 - 2004.

      To 3     To 200     Other       IRL     TOTAL
    Miles      Miles     Inland
  1997 126,875 24,538 79,264 8,554 239,230
  1998 129,413 29,799 20,551 29,110 208,873
  1999 217,942 26,057 7,828 18,723 270,550
  2000 359,654 30,898 32,288 22,608 445,447
  2001 233,973 17,158 16,302 68,969 336,402
  2002 399,279 52,503 10,674 64,237 526,693
  2003 403,441 41,903 42,657 31,269 519,271
   2004 179,879 37,328 13,996 12,181 243,384
   Total: 2,050,456 260,184 223,560 255,651 2,789,850

           Table 4. Summary data for the Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus,
recreational fishery in Eastern Florida waters from 1997 - 2004.  Data 
                       provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics
                       Division, NOAA.

  To 3 To 200 Other IRL
Miles Miles  Inland
  % Total % Total % Total % Total
  1997 53.0% 10.3% 33.1% 3.6%
  1998 62.0% 14.3% 9.8% 13.9%
  1999 80.6% 9.6% 2.9% 6.9%
  2000 80.7% 6.9% 7.2% 5.1%
  2001 69.6% 5.1% 4.8% 20.5%
  2002 75.8% 10.0% 2.0% 12.2%
  2003 77.7% 8.1% 8.2% 6.0%
  2004 73.9% 15.3% 5.8% 5.0%

                     Table 5. By-county annual and cumulative percentages of the Spanish
                               mackerel harvest for the years 1997 - 2001.
Data provided by National
                               Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, NOAA.

  To 3 Miles To 200 Miles Other Inland IRL
No. Fish 2,050,456 260,184 223,560 255,651
% 73.50% 9.33% 8.01% 9.16%

                        Table 6. Summary of the Spanish mackerel recreational harvest and
                                   percentage of total fish captured in each area from 1997 - 2004. Data
                                  provided by National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics
                                  Division, NOAA.


Beaumariage, D.S. 1973. Age, growth, and reproduction of king mackerel,
    Scomberomorus cavalla
, in Florida: Fla. Mar. Res. Publ. 1. 45 pp.

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    Scomberomorus cavalla
(Cuvier). U.S. National Mariner Fisheries Service,
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Berrien P. and D. Finan. 1977b. Biological and fisheries data on Spanish
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Briggs, J.C. 1958. A list of Florida fishes and their distribution. Bull. Fla. State
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    vicinity of Palm Beach, Florida. M.A. Thesis. University of South Florida.
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Godcharles, M.F. and M.D. Murphy. 1986. Species Profiles: Life histories and
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(Mitchell), of southern Florida. Fla. Board
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    juvenile Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, from the South
    Atlantic Bight. Fish. Bull. 95(3): 530-539.

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    mackerel, Scomberomus, maculatus. Fla. Mar. Res. Publ. 5. 21 pp.

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    433 pp.

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    winter air temperature on springtime migrations of king mackerel in the vicinity
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Report by: K. Hill, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: March 10, 2005