Atlantic Chub Mackerel

Atlantic Chub Mackerel

  • Scientific name: Scomber colias
  • Also know as: Spanish Mackerel
  • Size: Up to 18 inches in length but typically smaller.
  • UK minimum size: N/a
  • UK shore caught record: 1lb 15oz
  • IUCN Status
    • Global: LC (Least Concern)
    • Europe: LC (Least Concern)
  • Distribution: Widespread distribution throughout the warmer waters of the North East Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea. Rare around the UK but can be found around the south.
  • Feeds on: Mostly smaller fish and small squid, although will also eat prawns and small crustaceans as well.
  • Description: Very similar looking to the much more common Atlantic mackerel. Grows to a smaller maximum size. Has a similar mottled pattern down the flanks, although this does not extend as far down as it does in the Atlantic mackerel and a line of dark spots runs along the lateral line. Eye is much larger than that of the Atlantic mackerel.

Atlantic chub mackerel are a species which is usually found in the warmer waters of Europe, particularly the Mediterranean. In British waters they are only found around the south and west of the British Isles. They are not common enough for shore anglers to specifically target this species, but can sometimes be caught inadvertently by anglers fishing for the more common Atlantic mackerel. This species is often confused with others, and there have also been issues with this species being mis-identfied – see below.

Distribution and Life Cycle

This species is found around the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain and Portugal with their distribution continuing along the western coast of Africa. Their range extends throughout the Mediterranean and they are also found in the southern Black Sea. They are at the limit of their distribution in British waters but can be found around the southern and western regions of England as well as parts of the English Channel, Welsh coast and around the southern coastlines of the Republic of Ireland.

The Atlantic chub mackerel is a pelagic (mid-water) species which shoals in massive numbers. They feed on small species of fish such as sprats and immature specimens of other species but will also feed on small squid, prawn and shrimp species as well as small mid-water crustaceans as well.

Name Confusion and Identification

Mackerel Species

This species has a long history of being mis-identified, a problem which has been exacerbated by many official publications, journals and encyclopedias providing conflicting information about this species. To clarify there are now five species of mackerel in the Scomber genus, four of which are pictured with their common and scientific names to the left. The top of these is Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) which is the species of mackerel which is very common around the UK and is often caught on spinners and daylights in the summer months. The second is Atlantic chub mackerel (Scomber colias) which is sometimes caught in British waters and is the subject of this page. Chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus) is a separate species which is found along the pacific coast of North and South America and in Asian waters. Scomber colias and Scomber japonicus have often been conflated as one species leading to confusion, but they are in fact two different species. Blue mackerel (Scomber australasicus) is also known as Japanese mackerel or Pacific mackerel. This species is found in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the Pacific and is not found in European waters. In 2016 a new species of mackerel was discovered in the eastern Arabian Sea – Indian chub mackerel (Scomber indicus). This species was previously thought to be a variation of blue mackerel, but research showed that genetic differences meant that this was in fact a separate and distinct species.

Only Atlantic mackerel and Atlantic chub mackerel have British shore caught records, the other two species – being absent from British waters – do not have UK shore caught records.

Identifying Atlantic Chub Mackerel

Without complicated identification techniques available to scientists (such as counting gill rakers) anglers have to use the striped pattern on the flanks of the fish to tell Atlantic mackerel and Atlantic chub mackerel apart. Generally speaking the Atlantic mackerel chub have fainter, narrower stripes and a dotted line running along the centre of the body. The lower half of the flanks also usually has a large number of small spots which are not present on the Atlantic mackerel.

Mackerel Comparison

The picture above is taken from History of the Fishes of the British Isles (1877) by the famed Cornish naturalist Dr. Jonathan Couch. It shows an Atlantic chub mackerel at the top with the spotted pattern present, and an Atlantic mackerel at the bottom of the picture.

Commercial Value

Like all mackerel species the Atlantic chub mackerel is a highly commercial fish. It has a relatively strong taste and is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, such as much of southern Europe. it is also sold widely throughout Africa where there is a strong demand for this species. This species is caught by pelagic trawling and purse seining methods. Atlantic chub mackerel have been intensively fished in many areas (particularly the Mediterranean) causing them to be depleted in some locations. However, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) states that overall the stock is stable and classes this species as one of Least Concern.

British Records

The British shore caught record for this species is a fish of 1lb 15oz and 15 drams which was caught by Robert Lomas while fishing in Penberth Cove, Cornwall in 2010. The boat caught record is a slightly smaller specimen of 1lb 15oz exactly which was caught off the coast of Guernsey by Colin Marquis in 2015.

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