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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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

Marine Fisheries

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SPANISH MACKEREL, Scomberomorus maculatus

8-point rule

Spanish mackerel

Life History

Spanish mackerel are considered coastal pelagic, meaning they live in the open waters near the coast. They make northern and southern migrations depending on water temperature and seldom enter waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. In North Carolina's waters, Spanish mackerel can be found from April to November. They migrate south to the Florida coast in the late fall. In the summer months, they may be found as far inland as the sounds and coastal river mouths. Spanish mackerel spawn from May to September, are fast growing, and may live to be 8 years old. Spanish mackerel in North Carolina grow as large as 30 inches, but most recreational catches are between 12 and 15 inches. Both sexes are capable of reproduction by age 2. Spanish mackerel feed primarily on small, schooling pelagic fish such as anchovies and herring.

Fisheries

Spanish mackerel support significant recreational and commercial fisheries in North Carolina. Total 2017 landings were slightly over 1.27 million pounds, with commercial and recreational fisheries harvesting approximately 64 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Recreational anglers target Spanish mackerel by trolling small spoons and casting plugs. Anglers harvested 459,982 pounds of Spanish mackerel in 2017. Recreational harvest has declined since 2008 (Figure 1).
Figure 1

Predominant commercial fisheries for Spanish mackerel include gill nets and estuarine pound nets. In 2017, commercial landings were 815,972 pounds (Figure 2), and 80 percent of the Spanish mackerel harvest was taken in gill nets. North Carolina and Florida have historically accounted for the majority of commercial and recreational landings in the South Atlantic.

Figure 2

Management

In North Carolina, Spanish mackerel are included in the North Carolina Fishery Management Plan for Interjurisdictional Fisheries, which defers to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Fishery Management Plan for Spanish Mackerel. Spanish mackerel are currently managed under recent Amendments 20B (2015) and Framework Amendment 1 (2014) to the Coastal Migratory Pelagics Fishery Management Plan. Amendment 20B establishes separate commercial quotas of Atlantic Spanish 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). Framework Amendment 1 modifies the annual catch limits for Spanish mackerel in the U.S. Atlantic and modifies the recreational annual catch target, based on the results of the most recent stock assessments. North Carolina currently has a 12 inch fork length minimum size limit and a bag limit of 15 fish per day for recreational anglers; there is a 3,500 pound commercial trip limit. The harvest season is open year round, and is based on a fishing year of March 1 to the last day in February. Both commercial and recreational fisheries close when the quota is reached.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's South Atlantic State-Federal Fisheries Management Board approved the Omnibus Amendment for Spot, Spotted Seatrout, and Spanish Mackerel in 2011. For Spanish mackerel, the amendment included commercial and recreational management measures, adaptive management measures, and a process for board review and action in response to changes in the federal regulations. This allows for complementary management throughout the range of the species.

The board approved Addendum I (2013) to establish a pilot program to allow states to reduce the Spanish mackerel minimum size limit for the commercial pound net fishery to 11.5 inches from July through September for the 2013 and 2014 fishing years. The board evaluated the success of the pilot program and extended the provisions of Addendum I for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 fishing years. The program is intended to reduce waste of these shorter fish, which are discarded dead in the summer months, by converting them to landed fish that will be counted against the quota. The addendum responds to reports about the increased incidence of Spanish mackerel one-quarter to one-half inch short of the 12 inch fork length minimum size limit in pound nets during the summer months which die prior to being released, possibly due to a combination of temperature, stress and crowding. While work has been done to experiment with wall or panel mesh sizes and escape panels, little success has been made in releasing undersized fish quickly enough to prevent dead discards during this time of year. North Carolina, the only state to implement the addendum thus far, provides annual reports to the board on Spanish mackerel catch in its pound net fishery.

Stock Overview

  • Assessment: Yes
  • Terminal Year of Last Assessment: 2012
    • Overfishing: No (as of 2012)
    • Overfished: No (as of 2012)

A stock assessment was completed on the Atlantic Spanish mackerel stock in 2012 and indicated that removals from fishing were considered sustainable for the long term benefit of the stock. The assessment estimated that the spawning stock biomass (the weight of mature females in the stock) during the assessment (2012) was more than 3,662 metric tons. A maximum fishing mortality threshold of 0.69 annually was also set based on the spawning potential ratio (the reproductive potential of a fished stock compared to its unfished level) of 2,127 metric tons. Cooperative management by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has successfully rebuilt Spanish mackerel stocks after years of overfishing. In 2012, Spanish mackerel was assessed and peer reviewed through the SouthEast Data, Assessment and Review process. The results of the assessment indicate that the stock size and the rate of removals are sustainable. The stock size remained at a low level from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s and has been steadily increasing since 1995. Fishing mortality has been decreasing since the early 1990s.

Research Needs

Research needs include bycatch mortality estimates in the directed shrimp fishery, fishery-independent methods of monitoring stock size, and juvenile abundance indices.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Stock Assessment Reports

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

SouthEast Data, Assessment, and Review

Contacts

For more information, contact Randy Gregory at Randy.Gregory@ncdenr.gov
or 252-808-8078
Spanish mackerels
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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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