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When is best to eat?

mackerel by Sarah McCartney


Beautiful tigerstripes of black and green blue are unmistakable. Mackerel is a delicious fish, closely related to tuna, its moist flesh is high in omega 3 oils and is best eaten when very fresh, barbequed, baked or raw as sushi.

Sustainability Overview

One of the best Cornish seafood choices, delcious and very good for you. Cornwall's mackerel, the majority of which are handline caught, are very hard to beat. Stocks across europe are declining but within Cornish waters industrial fishing targeting mackerel is banned. traditional small scale fishing vessels target mackerel with simple handlines which are a selective and low impact method that produces the finest quality product.

Sustainability ratings for this species


Cornwall areas VIIe and VIIf

Score under reviewFish rating under review

A low impact, selective method of fishing using hook and line.

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Gill Netting


Score under reviewFish rating under review

Gill nets are used during winter months on the south coast to target mackerel.

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How we rate fish

Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.


Mackerel are fast swimming, migratory, shoaling fish that range all around the North East Atlantic. They feed on plankton and small fishes and come into Cornish waters in huge numbers at certain times of year.  Juvenile mackerel grow quickly and can reach 22cm after one year, and 30cm after 2 years. Mackerel can attain a maximum length of about 70cm and weight of 3.4kg.They may live for more than 20 years. By 3 years old, most mackerel are mature (at a length of approximately 28cm). Females shed their eggs in about twenty separate batches over the course of the spawning season. Mackerel are batch spawners, they spawn mainly in March to July; the eggs and larvae are pelagic. During this time spawning fish are not targetted as handlines only catch a small percentage of each shoal and only when they are feeding, not when they are spawning. Mackerel are moderately vulnerable to fishing effort, 44% (Cheung et al 2005).

Stock Info

Although our local handline fishery takes a tiny fraction of the total catch in the NE atlantic the migratory nature of this species means that you have to look at the stock as whole. Fishing pressure in other areas of the atlantic has increased which has had a bad effect on stocks, and this has combined with poor recruitment. According to the latest 2018 advice from the International Convention for Exloration of the Seas (ICES) stock levels have been decreasing for past 7 years and in 2018 for the first time the spawning stock fell below sustainable levels (MSY Btrigger). Fishing effort has increased for the past few years and is now more than twice the sustainble level
It is estimated that the total stock of mackerel in this area is over 4 million tonnes. Landings each year are close to 1 million tonnes. (ICES popular advice Mackerel).
Landings to Cornish ports have been stable for the last 20 years at around 1000 tonnes per year, a tiny fraction of the total EU catch.


Mackerel are managed throughout their range through an international agreement called the Coastal states agreement between the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands. 

Cornish mackerel stocks have been protected by the setting up fo the mackerel box in 1980's that still prohibits industrial scale fishing for mackerel in 67,000km2 of the coast of south west England. 

The minimum landing size for mackerel within Cornish waters is 20cm. 

Mackerel handline fishermen are given an annual quota which is a tiny share of the overall allocated catch of the members of the coastal states agreement.

Capture Info

Handlining is low impact and selective and inefficient compared with industrial fisheries
The South West Handline Fishing Association was originally set-up to represent the many mackerel handline boats fishing in SW England and in 2000, the Association was one of the first to receive accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for the SW Handline Mackerel Fishery.
Today, our members now fish for mackerel almost 12-months of the year. In the Spring a fleet of 20-25 boats of mostly single-handed boats between 15 -25ft in length fish from Newlyn, Mousehole and the surrounding Coves of Penberth and Lamorna. These boats tend to fish at dawn and dusk using lines of 25 or 30 hooks baited only with brightly coloured feathers or plastic tubing.
During the Summer the fishery moves onto St Ives on the North Cornish Coast where a fleet of upto 40 boats from St Ives, Hayle, Sennen and Portreath handline for mackerel until the Autumn.
From October to January a fleet of fast, modern vessels ranging from 30 to 40ft in length handline for mackerel from Looe with two or three crew per boat. These boats often have to travel upto 50 miles a day to search for fish.



ICES advice Mackerel 2018
ICES advice Mackerel 2017
ICES advice Mackerel 2016
MMO data
Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly, 2005. A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111 Source
Mackerel Box MMO

Recipes for Mackerel

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