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When is best to eat?

mackerel by Sarah McCartney


Beautiful tiger-stripes 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, delicious, and very good for you. Cornwall's mackerel, the majority of which are handline caught, are sustainably harvested and very hard to beat. Stocks across Europe are in a period of slight decline but within Cornish waters industrial fishing targeting mackerel is banned. Small scale, inhore fishing vessels target mackerel with handlines, a selective and low impact method that produces the finest quality product. Small quantities are also caught as by catch in sardine ring netting and using gill nets. Best choice is handline caught.

In 2021 a total of 496 tonnes of mackerel were landed to Cornish ports with a value of £890k (MMO data).

Updated July 2023

Sustainability ratings for this species

Hook and line

Cornwall areas VIIe and VIIf

Mackerel handling is a low impact, selective method of fishing using hook and line.

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Gill Netting


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

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Ring Netting

Cornish waters VIIe, f, g and h

Ring nets are used to encircle a shoal of pelagic fish. the main target species are sardines and anchovies but occasionally there is a by catch of mackerel landed.

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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 (approx 900 tonnes per year) the migratory nature of this species means that when assessing sustainability we have to look at the stock as whole. Fishing pressure in other areas of the Atlantic has increased, particularly off Norway Faeroes and Iceland, which has had an impact on stocks, and this has combined with poor recruitment. Latest advice (2023) released by the International Convention for Exloration of the Seas (ICES) show that stock levels have been decreasing but are still above sustainable levels.  Fishing effort has increased however and is now above sustainable levels (above MSY) across the NE Atlantic.
It is estimated that the total stock of mackerel in this area is just below 4 million tonnes. Total annual landings across NE Atlantic are close to 1 million tonnes. (ICES popular advice Mackerel).
Cornish handline mackerel fisheries make up a tiny percentage of the total catch of this species. The amount taken by the entire SW handline mackerel fleet (Cornwall, Devon and Dorset) is approx. 900 tonnes (MMO) per year (and has been relatively stable for the past 20 years) compared with a UK total catch of over 200,000 tones(ICES) – In 2017 the total handline catch was just 0.4% of the UK landings and 0.05% of the NE Atlantic landings.


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 of the mackerel box in the 1980's that still prohibits industrial scale fishing (pelagic trawling and purse seining) for mackerel in 67,000km2 of waters around the SW of 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, their 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.

Small quantities of mackerel are also landed as accidential by catch by Sardine ring netters. They are limited to a maximum of 15% mackerel. 

A small fleet of day boats from Mevagissey fish for mackerel with gill nets. They switch to gill nets when the water is murky and handlines cease to work well. Due to risks of cetacean by catch in gill nets the gill net scores were reduced in 2022 affecting the overall rating of net caught mackerel.


ICES advice Mackerel 2023
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 review ICES 

Recipes for Mackerel

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