Surf's Up Magazine

Jack Mackerel: All you Need to Know

  • Date: February 20, 2024
  • Time to read: 4 min.

The jack mackerel, also known as the Pacific jack mackerel , is an extremely plentiful species of pelagic marine fish in the Carangidae family.

The Pacific jack mackerel is found along the western coast of North America, in habitats ranging from Alaska to the Gulf of California. This fish can grow quite large.

A maximum length of 81 cm has been recorded, but they are commonly seen below 55 cm. Read on to learn more.

pacific jack mackerel
Jack Mackerel in a Shoal

Quick Facts

  • Most adults are found offshore, often up to 800 km (500 mi) from the shoreline and 400 m (1310 ft) deep.
  • This plant prefers subtropical regions where the temperature is around 8 degrees Celsius.
  • You can find these fish in schools that have sardine, Pacific mackerel, and anchovy.
  • This animal’s diet consists mostly of large zooplankton, juvenile squid, and anchovy.
  • It’s prey consist of larger tuna, billfish, and other marine mammals.


The pacific jack mackerel was of little importance before 1947, and was commonly referred to as the horse mackerel. It had no market appeal until 1948 when the United States Food and Drug Administration decided to allow “jack mackerel” on all labeling products.

The new label, combined with low catches of Pacific sardine in 1947-48 and increased catches of pacific jack mackerel during the same time, resulted in the fish gaining importance. In the past, mackerel consumption was considered a sign of low income. However, these stereotypes are largely gone today.


The Pacific jack mackerel swims through the eastern Pacific Ocean. Starting from Alaska in the north and going south to the western North American seaboard and ending at the Baja California peninsula in the Gulf of California.

They reside both in deep-sea and coastal areas, often going as far offshore as 600 miles and to depths of 400 m. They also commonly live in bays and other shallow waters nearer to shore.

freshly caught jack mackerel
Freshly Caught


The Pacific jack mackerel is pretty similar to other members of its family, having a long body that’s slightly compressed. Both the top and bottom of the fish are curved.

This fish grows to a maximum length of 81 cm (32 in) but is more commonly found to be below 55 cm. Its two dorsal fins have eight spines apiece, followed by 31-35 soft rays.

The anal fin has two detached spines at the front. These are followed by one spine that leads into 26-30 soft rays. For some large individuals, the last few rays on both the dorsal and anal fins are almost entirely separate from the rest of the fin, sticking out like a small picket fence.

This Carangidae fish species is easily distinguished by its forked caudal fin and single-spined ventral fin. It also has a shorter pectoral fin in comparison to other related fish, where it terminates before the front of the anal fin.

This fish usually have between 50 to 53 scales on its upper section and 43 to 52 keeled scutes along its posterior. In addition, their teeth are significantly smaller than other fishes’.

And there is a patch of teeth located on the tongue in a narrow strip that resembles a club shape. Lastly, this species contains 24 vertebrae bones altogether which contributes to correctly identifying them.

The Pacific jack mackerel’s back is a metallic blue-green, but it becomes more silvery towards the bottom. The fish has a white belly and the top of its head is dark, as well as an area near its eye. Most of the fins are hyaline to dusky in color, although the caudal fin may be yellow to red.

To Catch and Eat

A churning mass of Pacific jack mackerel creates a bait ball, acting as an appetizer buffet for hungry seabirds and marine mammals.

They are often fished for both commercial and sport reasons. They can be found biting on baited hooks near piers and boats, as well as while salmon trolling. Along the coast, Pacific jack mackerel fishing is a popular commercial activity.

Individuals that are large in size typically migrate towards the shore and north during the summer months. The Pacific jack mackerel is canned using similar methods to those of salmon. This process involves cleaning the fish, removing its guts and fins, then packing it into a can with salt and water.

If you’re looking for a fishes that tastes like canned sardines, then go for Pacific jack mackerel. It can be used similarly to salmon or tuna in recipes. As an additional bonus, it’s also safer to consume Jack Mackerel than tuna. This is because it’s a smaller fish and not a top predator. Meaning there’s less of a chance for heavy metals such as mercury to accumulate in its system.

mackerel fish cakes
Mackerel Fish Cakes


japanese horse mackerel

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