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14 Interesting Facts About Mackerel

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Mackerel is a common name applied to several different species of pelagic fish that are found in temperate and tropical seas around the world. These fast-swimming fish are rich in healthy fats like omega-3s and are popular in cuisines across many cultures.

When it comes to this flavorful, nutrient-dense fish, there is much more below the surface than meets the eye. From their extensive migrations across oceans to their role in Japanese culture and World War II history, mackerels have an intriguing backstory.

Here are 14 fascinating facts about these striped swimmers and their place on the dinner table:

Facts About Mackerel

Mackerel by frankdouwes is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .
  1. Mackerel are voracious travelers – species like Atlantic mackerel are known to swim tremendous distances in large schools during extensive seasonal migrations. Covering over 900 miles in just 90 days, they move between their feeding and spawning grounds across the Northern Atlantic ocean.
  2. They have a diverse family – there are over 30 species of fish that are known as mackerel. This includes King, Spanish, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and more that vary in size, color, and habitat.
  3. Fast is their middle name – mackerel are speedy swimmers that can propel themselves nearly 45 miles per hour. Their streamlined bodies and powerful tails make them one of the fastest fish in the sea.
  4. Mackerel were a wartime staple – canned mackerel became a critical protein source during WWII when other meat was rationed or unavailable. Affordable and full of nutrients like vitamin B12, omega-3 and protein, mackerel helped sustain British and American soldiers and citizens.
  5. They are rich in healthy fats – mackerel are one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. These essential fats support brain and cardiovascular health and fight inflammation.
  6. But they spoil quickly – the high oil content makes these fish extremely perishable after being caught. Mackerel should be cooked within two days to avoid spoilage issues or potential foodborne illnesses.
  7. Smoking preserves mackerel – smoking or drying these fish can extend their shelf life significantly. Smoked mackerel has become popular in Europe, Africa and other areas as the processing adds flavor and allows longer storage.
  8. Japan loves mackerel – Japanese culture has a strong appreciation for mackerel, with saba (mackerel) sushi being particularly popular. The fish is also used in miso soup, grilled dishes, rice balls and other favorites in Japanese cuisine.
  9. …And mackerel signals summer – saba is considered a sign of summer in Japanese culture, as Pacific mackerel migrate and are abundant during warmer months. There are festivals, songs and proverbs in Japan related to this cultural relationship with mackerel over the centuries.
  10. Spain adores pickled mackerel – in Spain and some Nordic countries, vinegar-cured mackerel called boquerones is a popular tapas dish. Other flavors like wine, garlic and herbs are also used to marinate mackerel filets in the pickling process.
  11. The British have a love affair with kippers – kippers are split, salted and smoked herring or mackerel that are a breakfast staple in Great Britain. The smoking process gives this fish a distinctive intense flavor and orange color.
  12. A mackerel’s stripes are unique as a fingerprint – the colorful patterns on mackerel skin contain distinctive markings that act as a “fingerprint” to identify individuals of the same species. Scientists use these unique signatures for migration and population studies.
  13. Their populations are vulnerable – many mackerel species have suffered significant population declines from overfishing and environmental changes. Several types including King and Spanish mackerel are now considered threatened with extinction.
  14. Mackerel go by many other names – regional names for these fish include caballa (Spanish), sgombro (Italian), peting (Thai), saba (Japanese) and more based on local languages and dialects. The diversity of names reflects their worldwide popularity.


With their rich flavor, tender meat and abundance of omega-3s, mackerel deliver exceptional nutrition and taste that continues to be enjoyed globally. Their extensive migrations connect ecosystems and cultures across immense distances. Beyond being simply a pleasant meal, mackerel have compelling stories to tell from the past and an uncertain future that lies ahead. Preserving mackerel populations while consuming them responsibly allows us to respect these fascinating fish both on our plates and in the wild.

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