Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.Map Help



Atlantic mackerel are most readily identified by the strong dark markings on their back, which are oblique to near-vertical with relatively little undulation. The belly is unmarked and a mixture of silver and metallic blue in colour. Scomber scombrus is a streamlined fish with a total of 8-14 dorsal spines, 11-13 dorsal soft rays and 12-13 anal soft rays. They also show a conspicuous anal fin spine, joined to the fin by a thin membrane. They do not possess a swim bladder.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Widely distributed in the continental shelf seas around the British Isles and Ireland, usually at depths of less than 200 m. Found in greater abundance on the shelf edges during winter.

Global distribution



Atlantic mackerel is a pelagic species that makes extensive migrations, and there are a variety of hydrographical features such as temperatures as well as the abundance and composition of zooplankton and other prey is likely to affect its distribution. Scomber scombrus can be extremely common and found in huge shoals feeding on small fish and prawns.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Fast, streamline, fish usually found in dense shoals.
  • At full length Atlantic mackerel may reach over 60 cm in length and 3.4 kg in weight.
  • Strong dark markings on the back which are oblique to near straight in orientation.
  • Unmarked belly, silver to metallic blue in colour.

Additional information

Shoals up to 9 km long, 4 km wide and extending 40 m deep have been reported. This species is a highly commercial species for trawlers but is also targeted by anglers and sport fishers (Lockwood, 1988).

A similar species, the Scomber japonicus, is also found in the English Channel during the summer. The species are distinguished by five small finlets between the second dorsal and tail fin, and between the anal fin and the tail of Scomber japonicus (Knijn et al., 1993).


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  1. Cofnod – North Wales Environmental Information Service, 2018. Miscellaneous records held on the Cofnod database. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-25.

  2. Environmental Records Information Centre North East, 2018. ERIC NE Combined dataset to 2017. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-38

  3. Fenwick, 2018. Aphotomarine. Occurrence dataset Accessed via on 2018-10-01

  4. Isle of Wight Local Records Centre, 2017. IOW Natural History & Archaeological Society Marine Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  5. Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre, 2017. Fish: Records for Kent.. Occurrence dataset accessed via on 2018-09-27.

  6. Lancashire Environment Record Network, 2018. LERN Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  7. Merseyside BioBank., 2018. Merseyside BioBank (unverified). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  8. National Trust, 2017. National Trust Species Records. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  9. NBN (National Biodiversity Network) Atlas. Available from:

  10. Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, 2017. NBIS Records to December 2016. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  11. OBIS (Ocean Biodiversity Information System),  2024. Global map of species distribution using gridded data. Available from: Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Accessed: 2024-05-28

  12. Outer Hebrides Biological Recording, 2018. Vertebrates (except birds, INNS and restricted records), Outer Hebrides. Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-01.

  13. South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, 2018. SEWBReC Fish (South East Wales). Occurrence dataset: accessed via on 2018-10-02.


This review can be cited as:

Barnes, M.K.S. 2008. Scomber scombrus Atlantic mackerel. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 28-05-2024]. Available from:

Last Updated: 27/03/2008