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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - King Mackerel

Marine Fisheries

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KING MACKEREL, Scomberomorus cavalla

8-point rule

King mackerel

Life History

King mackerel are considered coastal pelagic, meaning they live in open ocean waters near the coast. They are found from North Carolina to southeast Florida, making inshore and offshore migrations that are triggered by water temperature and food supply. King mackerel prefer warm waters and seldom enter waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, they gather just inside the Gulf Stream along the edge of the continental shelf. In the summer and fall, they move inshore along the beaches and near the mouths of inlets and rivers. King mackerel spawn from April to November, with males maturing between age 2 and 3 and females between age 3 and 4. King mackerel in North Carolina grow as large as 60 inches, but most recreational catches are between 35 and 45 inches. They feed on menhaden, mullet, thread herring, sardines and squid and may be seen leaping out of the water in pursuit of prey.

Fisheries

King mackerel support important recreational and commercial fisheries in North Carolina. Total 2016 landings were slightly under 1 million pounds, with commercial and recreational fisheries harvesting approximately 53 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Recreational anglers target king mackerel by trolling spoons and live baits. Anglers harvested 465,195 pounds of king mackerel in 2016 (Figure 1). For unknown reasons, recreational harvest has declined sharply since 2007. King mackerel in 2016 was nearly 30 percent below the 660,761 pound 10 year average (2007-2016), however it still had the highest landings since 2009.

Figure 1

In 2016, commercial landings were 420,088 pounds (Figure 2) and 80 percent of the king mackerel harvest was taken by hook-and-line while the remaining 20 percent was harvested in gill nets. Similar to the recreational fishery, the commercial fishery has declined since 2007. 2016 landings were roughly 25 percent lower than the 561,449 pound 10 year average (2007-2016).

Figure 2

Management

In North Carolina, king mackerel are included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council management measures, and so are currently managed under recent Amendments 20A (2014) and 20B (2015) to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan. The management unit for the South Atlantic king mackerel stock is the population from the Florida Keys to the New England coast. Amendment 20A prohibits the sale of all bag-limit-caught king mackerel, except those harvested during a state permitted tournament. Amendment 20B establishes separate commercial quotas of Atlantic king mackerel for a Northern Zone (north of North Carolina and South Carolina state line) and Southern Zone (south of North Carolina and South Carolina state line). The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently developed Amendment 26 (effective May 11, 2017) to update the Atlantic king mackerel annual catch limits and adjust the mixing zone based on the results of the 2014 stock assessment and to provide an incidental catch allowance of Atlantic king mackerel in the small coastal shark gill net fishery. North Carolina currently has a three fish recreational bag limit, 24 inch fork length size limit, 3,500 pound commercial trip limit and permit requirements for commercial harvesters for their season (March through February).

Stock Status Overview

In 2014, the South Atlantic king mackerel stock was assessed and peer reviewed through the SouthEast Data, Assessment and Review. The model combined fishery and life history data to produce observed catch, size and age composition, and catch per unit effort indices. The results of the assessment indicate that the stock size and the rate of removals are sustainable. Overall, stock biomass and spawning stock biomass (the weight of mature females in the stock) show little depletion until the 1950s, when a slow decline started and then accelerated around 1980, reaching its lowest level in the late 1990s, from which it increased until 2010. Since 2010, there has been a slight decrease in spawning stock biomass.

Research Needs

Research needs include bycatch mortality estimates in the directed shrimp fishery, fishery independent methods of monitoring stock size, juvenile abundance indices and estimates of Atlantic and Gulf stock mixing rates in south Florida.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Stock Assessment Reports

SouthEast Data, Assessment and Review

Contacts

For more information,
contact Randy Gregory at Randy.Gregory@ncdenr.gov
or 252-808-8078
King mackerel
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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