Atlantic Spanish Mackerel fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel are coastal pelagic migratory fish, forming huge, fast-moving schools that range the open seas of the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to the Gulf of Mexico. In the late summer and early fall when water temperature drops below 70 degrees F. this species migrates southward to spend the winter and early spring along Florida's southern coast. Spanish Mackerels do not appear to move freely around the Florida Keys, creating two separate populations: one in the Gulf of Mexico and the other along the main western Atlantic coast. The former extends from the Gulf of Mexico throughout Florida waters to the Yucatán, and the latter extends from Miami to the Chesapeake Bay and occasionally to Cape Cod. Spanish Mackerels vary greatly in size; they share many common characteristics including being very fast, powerful swimmers.
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel is a popular gamefish and a good food fish of the Scombridae family. It is also of significant commercial interest, and whole fish are frequently used as bait for big-game fishing. They have darker meat and are one of the tastiest of the Mackerel family. Atlantic Spanish mackerels are also one of the richest sources for Omega-3 fatty acids. These are the polyunsaturated fatty acids with huge health benefits. They are easily filleted and excellent eating baked, broiled, steamed, smoked, poached, or fried.
They are absent Bermuda and most of the West Indies, from the Bahamas and the Antilles, except around Cuba and Haiti, but are highly abundant around Florida.
Atlantic Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculate, also known as Spanish mackerel, Horse mackerel, Spotted mackerel, Spaniard, Spotted cybium, Thazard Atlantique in France, Carite Atlántico in Spain, is a marine species of the family Scombridae, ranges on both coasts of North America, north as far as Chesapeake Bay in the Atlantic, and to Gulf of Maine; south to Brazil. They occur seasonally from the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico, as far north as Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts as a stray in the colder waters. They found as far north as New York, Nova Scotia (Canada), the southern coasts of New England, during most summers at Woods Hole.
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel has the outline of the slender mackerel rather than of the stout bonito, its body is elongate, strongly compressed, being nearly 4˝ to 5 times as long as it is deep. Snout is pointed and is much shorter than rest of head; posterior part of maxilla exposed, reaching to a vertical from hind margin of eye. Two barely separated dorsal fins, the first is triangular with 16 to 19 (usually 19) spines and originates above the pectoral fin base, 15 to 20 soft rays in the second dorsal fin which is concave and originates a short distance in front of the anal, which is similar to it in form and size. It has 8 or 9 dorsal and as many anal finlets behind second dorsal fin, and 11 to 16 (usually 12 to 14) gill rakers on the first arch (1 to 4, usually 2, on upper limb; 8 to 12, usually 10 or 11, on lower limb). There are 2 flaps (interpelvic processes) between pelvic fins. The caudal fin is falciform (curved, sickle shaped), with the outer rays decidedly longer than those of the common mackerel.
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel has relatively large sharp, uniform, closely spaced and flattened from side to side teeth that are triangular in shape and are arranged in a single row around their jaw. These teeth can easily bite through small monofilament leaders. There are patches of teeth found on top of their mouth also. It has 32 teeth, or fewer, in each jaw. Lateral line is gradually curving down from the upper end of the gill cover toward to the base of caudal peduncle (tail). Body entirely covered with small scales, no corselet developed; pectoral fins without scales, except at bases.
Distinguishing characteristics: Snout much shorter than rest of head; posterior part of maxilla exposed, reaching to a vertical from hind margin of eye. Two hardly separated dorsal fins. Lateral line is gradually curving down toward caudal peduncle. Body entirely covered with small scales; pectoral fins are naked, without scales, except at bases. Interpelvic process small and bifid. Swim bladder absent. First dorsal fin black anteriorly and at distal margin posteriorly. Generally silvery with sides marked with about three rows of round to elliptical dark spots (orange in life). The most distinctive anatomic character is the large conical jaw teeth.
17–19 Dorsal spines
17-20 Dorsal soft rays
17–20 Anal soft rays
51–53 Vertebrae (21-22 precaudal plus 30-31 caudal)
Intestine with 2 folds and 3 limbs
11 to 16 (usually 12 to 14) gill rakers
8 or 9 anal finlets
Max. Length: 36 in (70 cm), common to 50 cm
Max weight: 13 lbs (6 kg)
The slender, elongated body of the Atlantic Spanish mackerel is silvery sides and belly with a dark bluish or olive green back above, pale below. The silvery sides are marked with about three rows of round to oval dull orange or yellowish, or olive green spots, both above the lateral line and below, these spots being a very diagnostic character. The number of spots increases with increasing fork length of the mackerel. The first (spiny) dorsal fin is black at the front; its rear part is greenish white. The second dorsal and pectoral fins are pale yellowish with dusky edges; the anal and the ventrals are white. Posterior membranes are white with a black edge.
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel are similar in appearance to the Cero mackerel, Scomberomorous regalis and the King mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla. All three are very similar in shape and coloration. The most distinguish characteristics that Spanish mackerel has prominent bronze or yellow-gold spots on its sides without stripes at all sizes. In addition to such spots, Cero mackerel has both spots and stripes of bronze or yellow-gold along the midline from pectoral fin to tail; whereas the King mackerel has neither except small species (young King mackerel have similar, but slightly smaller spots).
The front part of the first (spiny) dorsal on Atlantic Spanish and Cero mackerel has a prominent black patch. The King mackerel has none. The lateral line on Spanish and Cero mackerel slopes gradually from the top edge of the gill to the tail. King mackerel has a lateral line that drops abruptly below the second dorsal fin at mid-body. The Atlantic Spanish mackerel lacks scales on the pectoral fins except at the bases, which further distinguishes it from both the Cero and the King mackerel, which have scales on them. The Spanish mackerel have no swim bladder and is much smaller than the King mackerel.
Two dorsal fins (like those of the bonitos) are hardly separated, Its high second dorsal, slender form, and spotted sides mark it off at first glance from our bonitos, while its color, slender form, long first-dorsal fin, and the outline of its second dorsal distinguish it from a small tuna. The most clear-cut distinction between the Atlantic Spanish and its close relatives the king mackerel and the cavalla, is that the pectoral fins of the Spanish are naked but those of the last two are mostly covered with scales. The ventral fins, also, originate definitely behind the origin of the first dorsal in the Spanish, under it or only a very little rearward in the king; and the color differs.
Spanish mackerel are epipelagic, shallow water species, residing at depths ranging from 33-115 feet and preferring sand bottom in 10 to 40 foot (6 to 12 m) depths, occasionally found as deep as 80 feet (24 m). They are often found in very large schools near the surface of the water and enter tidal estuaries. They are rarely found in low salinity waters. Spanish mackerel larvae occur mostly offshore while juvenile mackerels are found both offshore and in the beach surf. They prefer water temperatures above 68° F. They show up in the spring when the water temperature off the beach goes through 70° F, with the 72 - 73° F range marking the best fishing.
With rising water temperatures, Spanish mackerel in the Atlantic Ocean migrates along the Atlantic coast of the United States from Miami Florida, beginning in late February through July reaching as far as southern Cape Cod, Massachusetts during the warmer summer months, then returning back in the autumn and winter months to waters off Florida. An Eastern Gulf group moves northward from the Florida Keys during late winter and early spring, appearing off the central West Coast of Florida about April 1. Movement continues westward and terminates along the northern Texas coast. During fall, this species also migrates along the coast of Mexico southward between August and November and then northward again in March and April.
Spanish mackerel are voracious, opportunistic, carnivores; tend to feed on the smallest bait fish available which are usually glass minnows. However, the diet of adult Spanish mackerel consists primarily of smaller fish such as herrings, menhaden, alewives, jacks, mullet, anchovy, and sardines. This mackerel is also known to feed in lesser quantities on shrimp, crabs, squid and cephalopods. Feeding Spanish mackerel are often seen forcing schools of small fish into tight bundles and nearly pushing them out of the water.
Spanish mackerel mature by age 1 and length 14 inch (36 cm) and spawn offshore from mid-spring through summer, from April through September. They spawn closer to shore and in shallower waters than king mackerel. The Gulf group spawns in batches from May to September off shore of Texas, off the Gulf shore of Florida as early as April in some years. The Atlantic group spawns starting in April off the Carolinas and from late August to late September in the northernmost part of its range.
Spanish mackerel have separate male and female sexes and are batch spawners, meaning they shed their eggs more than once through a spawning season. The gametes are broadcast into the water column and fertilization is external. Females release between half a million and 1.5 million eggs, and the larvae grow fast to reach lengths of 12 to 15 inches after the first year. They are able to reproduce by the second year.
The eggs are buoyant, round in shape and transparent. Hatching has been documented to occur within 25 hours at 79° F. The larvae feed on larval fishes such as carangids, clupeids, and engraulids as well as some crustaceans.
Juvenile Spanish mackerel use estuaries and nearshore, open-beach waters as nursery areas and grow rapidly and then start to slow as they reach age 5 for males and age 6 for females. Females live longer and grow to larger sizes than males. Females may live as long as 11 years, growing to 11 lbs (5 kg) and 33 in (83 cm) length. Males can grow to about age 6 and 19 inches (48 cm) length.
Spanish Mackerel are a good fighting fish and are a highly valued fish throughout their range from North Carolina to Texas, inhabits the Destin waters from about late March to October. It is a schooling fish, migrating north along the west coast of Florida in the spring as it follows the pods of bait fish. It could be catch from boats while trolling or drifting and from boats, piers, jetties, and beaches by casting spoons and jigs and live-bait fishing. Spanish mackereal love moving bait on a long shank hooks, or fast retrieving lures such as spoons. Using regular hooks lets the mackereal with their sharp teeth cut the line. Also could be taken by trolling feathers or pork rind or by casting fly and spinning lures into surface schools.
Commercial methods are primarily run-around gill netting, and rarely, by trolling lures similar to those used by recreational anglers.
Spanish mackerel are primarily marketed fresh or frozen as fillets as commercially caught fish are too small to sell in the form of steaks. Their raw flesh is white. They may be prepared by broiling, frying, baking or, rarely, by smoking. The Spanish mackerel is also a popular fish among devotees of sushi who prize it for its flavor.