PACIFIC MACKEREL+ Larger Font | + Smaller Font

Pacific Mackerel
Pacific Mackerel
Jack Mackerel

• Pacific mackerel, also called chub or blue mackerel, supported a major fishery in California during the 1930s and 1940s, and again in the 1980s. Pacific mackerel ranked first in volume of California finfish landings from 1984 through 1991.

• Before 1928, Pacific mackerel was landed incidentally in the sardine fishery and was used primarily as fresh fish. Most of the harvest came from southern California waters. In 1928 the first large-scale canning of mackerel took place. The development of the mackerel canning industry provides “one of the most spectacular pages in the history of the world’s fisheries. Almost overnight the mackerel catch rose from tenth to second place among California fisheries, exceeded only by sardine.”(Croker, 1937)

• Smaller lampara boats dominated the mackerel fishery in the early days (1928-1929); by 1929-30 the San Pedro fleet had adopted ring nets. Cannery prices for mackerel were $8 to $10 a ton during the depression years (1930-32). The number of lampara boats in the mackerel fleet peaked in 1933-34 at 45 vessels. By 1934 it was apparent that the larger purse seine boats were better adapted to large-scale mackerel fishing, and just as they had some years before in the sardine fishery, purse seiners supplanted the lampara boats.

• In 1934 a total of 23 purse seine boats fished regularly for mackerel out of San Pedro; 69 purse seiners landed mackerel in the Los Angeles region. The total number of boats harvesting mackerel had increased to 477 by 1937; purse seine vessels landed the vast majority of the catch.

• In 1937 a total of 16 canneries packed mackerel in southern California: 8 were located on Terminal Island, 3 in Long Beach, 2 in Wilmington and 3 in Newport Beach. Then as now, Pacific mackerel peaked in abundance during late summer and early fall, neatly filling the lull before sardine canning season, which traditionally began in the fall.

• A scarcity of mackerel became apparent as catches dropped off, beginning in the latter 1930s. A moratorium was placed on the fishery in 1970. In 1972, new legislation imposed a strict landing quota based on estimates of stock (age-one plus) biomass.

• An extraordinary series of successful year classes in the late 1970s initiated recovery of the Pacific mackerel resource and allowed the fishery to reopen in 1977, with quota equal to 30 percent of the total biomass in excess of 20,000 tons. Quotas from 1992 through 2000 averaged 24,445 tons, with a high of 47,200 tons set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council for the 1999-2000 season. Harvest guidelines are based on a strict environment-based formula that subtracts from the estimated biomass a “cutoff” porton below which fishing is prohibited, then applies a percentage harvest rate (30%) and multiplies that result by 70 percent to account for the percentage of this transboundary stock in U.S. waters. The HG for the 2006 season was 19,845 metric tons, about 14 percent higher than in 2005.

• Originally called horse mackerel, jack mackerel was reported in commercial catches as early as 1888, but was a minor component of the coastal pelagic fishery until 1947. In that year jack mackerel landings increased almost tenfold to 65,000 tons, as the canning industry turned to jack mackerel to offset the decline of sardine and Pacific mackerel resources. Between 1947 and 1979, jack mackerel landings comprised six to 65 percent of annual CPS landings. The recovery of Pacific mackerel in the 1970s shifted effort away from jack mackerel.

The CPS fleet prefers Pacific mackerel because jack mackerel occur farther offshore and tend to aggregate over rocky bottom, increasing the risk of damage to expensive round-haul nets. In recent years, the recovery of sardines and increased demand for squid worldwide have also contributed to the decline of jack mackerel landings in California.

• In 2000, the federal government assumed management of coastal pelagic species and implemented the CPS Fishery Management Plan. In the limited entry plan adopted as part of the CPS FMP, 65 vessels qualified for limited entry permits to harvest coastal pelagic finfish in California, including jack and Pacific mackerel as well as sardine and anchovy..

Representing California's Historic Fishery
Office: (805) 693-5430 - Mobile: (805) 350-3231
P.O. Box 1951, Buellton, Ca. 93427
Copyright © 2010 California Wetfish Producers Association Website: