Maine: Mackerel, small but economically important, hits 'overfished' list
For the first time, the Atlantic mackerel — native to the Gulf of Maine — has been added to a federal list of overfished species.
The listing appeared in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 Status of U.S. Fisheries Annual Report to Congress.
The report details the status of 479 managed stocks or stock complexes in the U.S. to identify which stocks are subject to overfishing, are overfished, or are rebuilt to sustainable levels, according to a news release.
Although the number of U.S. fish stocks subject to overfishing remains at a near all-time low, the Atlantic mackerel was added to the list for the first time.
Atlantic mackerel are harvested commercially from Maine to North Carolina. Some is sold fresh in domestic markets, but most is frozen and exported to markets around the world, according to fishwatch.gov.
In 2016, commercial landings of Atlantic mackerel totaled 11.7 million pounds and were valued at more than $3 million.
Commercial landings from 2004 to 2016 ranged from a high of 125 million pounds in 2006 to a low of 1.1 million pounds in 2011.
The U.S. commercial fishery for Atlantic mackerel operates between May and December in the Gulf of Maine and between January and May in southern New England and Mid-Atlantic coastal waters. Fishermen harvest mackerel in large volumes using mid-water trawls.
Mackerel are also important to recreational fisheries in New England and the Mid-Atlantic, with the highest landings occurring from Maine to Massachusetts. In 2016, recreational harvest of Atlantic mackerel totaled 3 million pounds, most of which was caught in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
A stock is on the overfished list when the population size is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes, such as environmental changes.
For Gulf of Maine waters, mackerel joined other longstanding listings, including Atlantic cod, various types of flounder, Atlantic halibut, Atlantic salmon and Atlantic wolffish.
One Gulf of Maine species made it off the list. After nine years in a rebuilding plan with strict management, including a prohibition on landings, Gulf of Maine smooth skate was declared rebuilt in 2018.