by gone71 N
Atlantic mackerel in its full glory
Atlantic Mackerel in its full glory | photo ©

Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is a pelagic fish that is very common in the North Atlantic and along the Norwegian coast. It has a characteristic appearance with black stripes along the body side, and is among the most famous fish in southern Norway, both as a food fish, for sport fishing and as a sign of summer. The species makes long migrations and enters the Norwegian coast in the summer. Due to its high content of Omega-3 acids Norwegian mackerel is considere an exceptionaly healthy food source. By far the best way to enjoy it, is fresh!

Fishing for mackerel

Mackerel is a highly sought after species both in commercial fishing and in sport fishing. Fishing for mackerel takes place mainly in the summer when they arrive in big numbers close to the shores. These fish have a very muscular body and put up a big fight. You can often encounter them trailing swarms of herring. Mackerel are not very picky when it comes to feeding behaviours and most lures with a fast action work in our experience. Traditionally mackerel are usually fished with “pilks” or “pirks” but spoons, jigs or even spinners might do the job as well. When fishing from shore, try to real in fast and steady. If you fish from a boat you can also try a multi-hook set up (pater noster) along with bait as pieces of herring, shrimp, mussles or something similar.

Atlantic Mackerel in its full glory | photo ©


The body is coil-shaped and streamlined. The color drawings and the small fins behind the two large dorsal fins mean that mackerel cannot be confused with other common fish species in Norway.The back shines in green or blue and along the sides are a series of irregular dark bands. The belly side never has stains or streaks. The shells are small, and the body feels soft when you touch it.
The mackerel does not have a swim bladder and can therefore quickly change depth. It must always be in motion for enough oxygen-rich water to flow through the gills. Exceptionally large specimen can grow up to a length of 66 cm and a weight of 3.5 kg. A more usual size however is up to 40 cm and 700 g.

Distribution and habitat

The mackerel is a distinct shoal fish and the shoals can be huge with reported sightings of severeal km in length and diameter. In summer, mackerel live pelagically in the upper water layers where they become a great game fish to tackle from shore. In winter it stays at greater depths down to 250 m.

Large mackerel can travel several thousand kilometers in a year with the largest and most experienced individuals migrating the farthest. Mackerels overwinter outside Western Norway and in the outer part of the Norwegian Channel.


The most important food for mackerel is plankton, such as crayfish and krill, which are filtered out of the water using the gills. It also catches larvae, worms, herring and other small fish. Mackerel hunt basically for everything that is presented to them and are therefore a fairly easy prey. Cannibalism is not uncommon either. During the colder periods of the year, mackerel absorb little or no food.

Small fish extracted from the stomack of a single mackerel | Norway | photo ©


Most of the spawning in the North Atlantic takes place near the coasts between May and July. An female can spawn uo to 450,000 eggs during a season. The eggs float freely in the water and hatch after 5-7 days. The larvae drift with the ocean currents until they are approx. 10 mm and then move on to a more active lifestyle. One-year-old mackerel is about 21 cm, and two-year-old mackerel 28 cm. Sexual maturity occurs when it is around 30 cm long. Mackerel can be over 20 years old.

Stock management and endangerment

Fishing for mackerel is of great economic importance, and Norway is among the countries with the largest catch quota. The traditional Norwegian mackerel fishing has taken place in the Skagerrak and the North Sea. Global warming appears to be affecting mackerel migration patterns. The temperature has risen a lot in the northeast Atlantic, and at the same time there has been much less zooplankton. Redfish, krill and amphipods are important food for mackerel, and the largest concentrations of these species are now found in the front between Atlantic and Arctic waters.
Some Norwegian marine researchers believe that the stock of mackerel in the Norwegian Sea is far too large and that the mackerel empties the sea area of ​​zooplankton. Previously whales, sharks, sturgeons and other predatory fish regulated the mackerel stocks. But since there is a steep decline in those populations mackerel seem to thrive. Seabirds such as crutches and puffins and fish such as herring and salmon are in decline due to the large mackerel stock.

Food & Culture

Mackerel is an excellent food fish and is eaten pickled, cooked, fried, grilled and smoked. Mackerel in tomato is a popular spread in Scandinavia. In Norway, mackerel has traditionally only been eaten in the east and south. In other parts of the country, mackerel has been considered an “unfish”, in line with anglerfish and catfish. Persistent stories that mackerel are carrion and corpse-eater remain to this day.

Nevertheless, the content of omega-3 fatty acids is high, and mackerel is considered a very healthy food. Elsewhere in the world, related species can contain a lot of mercury, so one must limit the intake, but mackerel caught in Norway is safe to eat.

Atlantic Mackerel best enjoyed fresh | photo ©

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