St. Lawrence species

Atlantic mackerel

Scomber scombrus

Type of resource

  • Fish
  • Pelagic fish

Status of the resource

  • Vulnérable

In season

Fresh between June and August.

SIZE : From 30 cm to 40 cm, can reach up to 60 cm; for a weight of 500 g to 1.5 kg, and even up to 3.4 kg.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Up to 17 years.

LIFE CYCLE : Sexual maturity at about 2 or 3 years.

In the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence, Atlantic mackerel spawn in June and in July in the southern part of the Gulf. Females can lay up to 1,000,000 eggs per spawning season. They can lay their eggs several times, both during the day and at night. Incubation lasts a week.

Temperature changes in the waters of the St. Lawrence are affecting their ability to reproduce.

The color of the Atlantic mackerel’s back is an iridescent, metallic blue-green. It is striped with black bands and has dark patterns on its flank. Its scales are tiny, making it quite soft to the touch. It has a slender, tapered body, and a pointed head. The Atlantic mackerel does NOT have a swim bladder, which allows it to change depths rapidly. However, it must continuously move forward to get its oxygen supply.

In the water column, up to 1,000 m deep; but more frequently up to 200 m, in cold to temperate waters. A migratory and gregarious fish.

The Atlantic mackerel lives at the bottom of the water column in winter and rises to the upper levels in spring. They arrive in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence towards the end of May. After spawning, they disperse into the estuary and return between September and November.

Credit : Jean-Christophe Lemay, photo taken in Twillingate, in 2022.

The Atlantic mackerel plays a key role in the ecosystem, contributing to the transfer of nutrients between the lower trophic levels (plankton) and the upper trophic levels (predators).



Eggs of fish

Young or small fish


Atlantic cods

Atlantic bluefin tunas



MACHINES : Gillnets, seine, line.


Commercial and bait-fish fishing were urgently closed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the year 2022 due to the species’ status being in the “Critically endangered zone”.

Other regulations

  • Total authorized catch (before the ban)
  • Suspension of new permits since 2017
  • Specified fishing season
  • Fishing for bait authorized by permit. Exclusive use by the fisherman; cannot be sold.
  • Commercial community fishing permits for certain native communities.
  • Recreational fishing daily limit of 20 mackerel per person since 2021 and minimum catch size of 26.8 cm.

Commercial fishing for Atlantic mackerel has existed since the 1600s.

Atlantic mackerel is an important bait fish, particularly for snow crab and lobster fishing. Given its decline, it is all the more essential to find sustainable alternative bait that would be effective and equally profitable in order to limit the pressure on this species. Several facilities such as Merinov and the Marine Biotechnology Research Centre (CRBM) are actively searching for solutions.

Getting local information

Certain populations of mackerel are on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) list of fish ”to protect”. Until 2019, this species also had MSC certification (from the Marine Stewardship Council). Evaluations and advice will vary from region to region, as fish stocks are not the same everywhere. So why not be careful with this information.

BENEFITS Oily fish, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and promoting healthy immune, circulatory, and hormonal functions.

LET’S COOK : Quite a sharp taste. Brown flesh.


  • Because it is an oily fish, there is no need to add fat when cooking it.
  • Light cooking, such as steaming or en papillote, is best to avoid destroying the Omega-3s.
  • If frozen, it will lose its flavor and nutrients. Freezing is also not the best way to preserve it because of its high oil content. Fresh, smoked, or canned is preferable.

A word of warning

Given its vulnerable status, we do not recommend eating mackerel. Why not try capelin instead?