Mackerels live in tropical and temperate waters all around the world. Members of the same family as Tunas, the Scrombridaes, the family resemblance is obvious in their powerful, streamlined bodies designed for great speed and long ocean journeys. Like their close cousins they’re prized for their meaty, oily flesh, which is appreciated by dolphins, whales, seagulls, marlins and sharks, as well as humans.
Four large species of the tribe Scomberomorus, commonly known as ‘Spanish Mackerels’, constitute one of Queensland’s main fisheries. They all live in open waters, often schooling around islands and reefs and sometimes moving into bays and estuaries to feed.
- Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson) – The most popular of the large Mackerels is found around most of Australia except the very southern coast, from Esperance (WA) to Geelong (Victoria), and is mostly caught off Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, with some from northern NSW. It’s also widely distributed throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans and looks similar to Grey Mackerel, especially when young, due to the dark stripes on its sides.
- Grey Mackerel (Scomberomorus semifasciatus) – Has dark stripes similar to Spanish Mackerel but once the fish is caught these fade quickly to a silvery-grey. It’s caught off Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, but isn’t found as far south as Spanish Mackerel, ranging from Port Macquarie (NSW) to Shark Bay (WA).
- School Mackerel (Scomberomorus queenslandicus) – Looks like a small Spanish Mackerel, but with distinctive large grey spots on the back half of the body, though these begin to fade once the fish is caught. It has a similar range to Grey Mackerel and is caught mainly off Queensland and the Northern Territory.
- Spotted Mackerel (Scomberomorus munroi) – Similar to School Mackerel but with smaller spots, is found around most of Australia, except the southern coast from Bunbury (WA) to Newcastle (NSW), and caught mainly off Queensland.
Other Mackerels seen in Australia include:
- Blue Mackerel (Scomber australasicus) – Much smaller than the above four Scomberomorus Mackerels and more closely related to the smaller Atlantic (Scomber scrombrus) and Chubb (Scomber japonicus) Mackerels of the northern hemisphere. Found around the entire Australian coast except the Gulf of Carpentaria, it’s caught mainly in temperate waters from southern Queensland to southern Western Australia, as a bycatch of Jack Mackerel, which is a Trevally despite its Mackerel name, with which it often schools.
- Frigate Mackerel (Auxis thazard) – More closely related to Tunas than Mackerels, is only caught as bycatch of larger Tunas. The flesh deteriorates quickly and so it’s usually canned, dried or smoked.
- Mackerel Tuna (Euthynnus affinis) – Also a Tuna rather than a Mackerel, as its confusing name may suggest. It’s also caught as bycatch of larger Tunas and Mackerels and the flesh deteriorates quickly.
Blue Mackerel are often sold whole or as fillets, and the larger Mackerels are usually seen as cutlets or steaks.
- In whole fish look for lustrous skin, firm flesh, and a pleasant, fresh sea smell.
- In cutlets, steaks and fillets look for bright flesh that’s dark red in Blue Mackerel, and pinky-white in the larger Mackerels, with Spanish Mackerel virtually white.
- It should be firm, lustrous and moist without any dark brown markings or oozing water and with a pleasant fresh sea smell.
- Make sure whole fish is scaled, gutted and cleaned thoroughly.
- Wrap whole fish, fillets, cutlets and steaks in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container.
- Refrigerate for up to 2 days (it is best eaten as fresh as possible) or freeze for up to 3 months below -18ºC.
Cooking & Serving
- Mackerel has a strong, distinctly ‘fishy’ flavour and oily, firm flesh and is best pan-fried, baked, grilled, barbecued, smoked or pickled.
- It’s best prepared with stronger flavours such as bay, basil, citrus, curry, garlic, mustard, onion, oregano, pepper, red wine, tomato and vinegar.
- The thin skin can be eaten, but it’s usually sold skinned, and it has few bones which are easily removed.
- Blue Mackerel’s small scales can be removed by rubbing the skin with the fingers while running under cold water.
- It’s best wrapped in foil if baking or barbecuing, to prevent it drying out.
- Score whole fish or thick fillets at the thickest part of the flesh to allow even heat penetration.