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 the Black Sea. Rare around the UK but can be found around the south.
  • Feeds on: Mostly smaller fish and small squid.
  • 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. The eye is larger than that of the Atlantic mackerel.
  • Additional notes: Previously incorrectly recorded under the scientific name of Scomber japonicus in many sources.

Atlantic chub mackerel is a species which is usually found in the warmer waters of Europe, particularly the Mediterranean. In British waters they are 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 much more common Atlantic mackerel. This species is often confused with others, and there have also been issues with this species being misidentified – 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

Previously, many official organisations (including the British Record Fish Committee) listed Atlantic chub mackerel as Scomber japonicus. This appears to be a mistake which worked its way into official literature and has caused confusion. It is now established that the Atlantic chub mackerel (the species discussed on this page) has the scientific name Scomber colias, with the scientific name Scomber japonicus being used for the Pacific chub mackerel, a species which is not found in European waters. Atlantic mackerel – the species most commonly caught by UK anglers – has the scientific name Scomber scombrus.

Catching and Identifying Atlantic Chub Mackerel

Without complicated identification techniques available to scientists (such as counting gill rakers and dorsal fin spines) 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 have a large number of small spots which are not present on the Atlantic mackerel. The eye of the Atlantic chub mackerel is also larger than that of 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.

As Atlantic chub mackerel are relatively rare they are most often caught on spinners, daylights and feathers meant for species such as pollock, bass and Atlantic mackerel. Due to the similarities between these two species, and the fact that they can shoal together, it is likely that Atlantic chub mackerel are caught by anglers more often than realised and simply mistaken for the much more common Atlantic mackerel.

Commercial Value

Like all mackerel species, the Atlantic chub mackerel is a highly commercial fish. It has a relatively strong taste and is especially popular in 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. Atlantic chub mackerel have been intensively fished in many areas, particularly the Mediterranean where they are classed by the IUCN as Near Threatened. 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 in Europe and on a global basis.

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.