Image credit: Ross Robertson - Contact
Habitat and Distribution
This species occurs in the western Atlantic from Maine to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, including the Gulf of Mexico. It forms schools in coastal areas but also enters estuaries.
Spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico
In the GOM, this species spawns from April to September, with peak spawning occurring during May and June.
Spanish Mackerel are commonly found in large schools on the surface of warm waters off beaches, in shipping channels and passess, along barrier islands, and offshore. Some populations in the Gulf of Mexico are thought to migrate westwards in the early spring to waters off Texas, perhaps in association with spawning. Likewise, the species is believed to migrate along the coast of Mexico southward between August and November and then northward again the following spring. Limited information is available on the spawning patterns of Spanish Mackerel. In Texas, Mississippi, and Florida, spawning fish have been sampled along the inner continental shelf. Given the schooling behavior of Spanish Mackerel and no evidence they increase their densities to form spawning aggregations at discrete locations, the species may best be described as a simple migratory spawner. That said, a few studies have suggested that populations from the western and eastern Gulf of Mexico converge along the continental shelf during late spring and summer, which corresponds to the spawning season. Therefore, more research is warranted to understanding their spawning migrations and behavior. Spanish Mackerel are broadcast spawners with external fertilization.
Fishing Patterns in Relation to Spawning
Commercial landings are greatest during the period of February through April with the peak in April coinciding with the first month of the spawing season. Landings then decrease for the remainder of the year. Average monthly landings during spawning months are only greater than during non-spawning months in some years but not consistently.
Management of Spawning Aggregations
The commercial fishery for Spanish Mackerel is subject to an annual catch limit in federal waters. In addition to hook and line gear, gillnetting is permitted for commercial fishers in federal waters. Spearing is not permitted. The recreational fishey is subject to a daily catch limit of 15 in federal and state waters. Recreational fishers are not permitted to use castnets or powerheads in federal waters. Florida is the only gulf state to set catch limits, which are daily and take effect the day after the EEZ closes. Spanish Mackerel are designated as a gamefish in Texas. Texas restricts recreational gear to hook and line only, while Florida permits beach and haul seining in addition to other net, hook and line, and spearing gear in both the recreational and commercial fishery. There are no commercial or recreational seasonal closures for the fishery. Madison Swanson and Steamboat Lumps closed Nov.-Apr. The Edges is closed Jan. - Apr. April is the only month of spawning that coincides with closures. The minimum size is 12" FL for commercial and recreational.