A worker leans over the side of a mackerel fishing boat and checks lines pulling up Atlantic mackerel

Atlantic Mackerel

In the Bay of Biscay, off Cantabria, in Northern Spain, a family-owned hook-and-line boat heads out for caballa (Atlantic mackerel). Photo by Amy Kumler

This small, schooling fish has the satisfying, meaty texture and mild flavor typical of big fish, along with a mighty list of nutrients. While Atlantic mackerel are sometimes confused with their cousins, Spanish mackerel, Atlantics are smaller, live lower on the food chain and are generally abundant, making them more sustainable than larger fish. Ours are from a well-managed fishery in northern Spain, using hook and line, with little to no bycatch.

Fast Facts About Atlantic Mackerel

  • Our Atlantic mackerel are harvested by Spanish boats fishing in the Bay of Biscay.
  • Atlantic mackerel are beautiful fish, slender and shimmery, with tigerlike markings in blue, green and black. They average 12 inches in length and weigh about 2 pounds.
  • Benefits of eating Atlantic mackerel:
    • Mild, meaty flavor—these mackerel are very good to eat
    • Versatility in recipes (use as a sub for tuna)
    • No high levels of toxins common in larger fish
    • Nutritious: very high in protein, vitamin B-12 and other nutrient
    • Supports family fishing boats and centuries-old local fishing associations
Freshly caught Atlantic Mackerel on ice

Nutrition: Small but Mighty

Freshly caught Atlantic mackerel. Cantabria, Spain. Photo by Amy Kumler

Atlantic mackerel may be little fish, but they’re packed with vital nutrients that have multiple health benefits. Also, Atlantic mackerel don’t have the high levels of toxins often found in larger predator fish like tuna and swordfish, making them safer to eat.

Each can of our Atlantic mackerel contains around 20 grams of protein (40 to 42% of the daily value) and is an excellent source of vitamin B-12, selenium, vitamin E and niacin. It also has 500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving, thought to benefit hearth health. Atlantic mackerel are low on the food chain, feeding on zooplankton, so they don’t accumulate toxins in the way that higher-level apex predators can over the course of their longer lives. Because toxins are passed up the food chain, they become more concentrated as animals eat and then are eaten in turn.

An oblong ceramic dish with salad and piece of baguette topped with Patagonia Provisions Smoked Atlantic Salmon
Smoked Mackerel, with juices running down into the bread’s nooks and crannies. Photo by Amy Kumler
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A worker on a mackerel boat untangles a fishing line

Atlantic Mackerel Sourcing: A Delicacy from Spain

Out on the Bay of Biscay, César Zambrano untangles the mackerel line. Photo by Amy Kumler

Our Atlantic mackerel comes from the Bay of Biscay, in northern Spain, where the fish school prolifically and are caught using techniques that have been passed down for generations.

Before dawn during mackerel season in spring, when the weather is often moody and unpredictable, small boats set off in search of mackerel. When they encounter the dense, swirling schools of fish, they cast out their lines, each set with up to 30 hooks wrapped in red wool to look like the tiny crustaceans that entice mackerel to bite. This method requires no baitfish, results in little to no bycatch, and produces better-quality fish, since mackerel are never crushed at the bottom of a net. The mackerel are taken to nearby cannery Conservas Antonio Pérez Lafuente, where they’re lightly seasoned and packed in extra-virgin olive oil.

A close shot of a fishing hook tied with red thread
Red thread simulates the tiny crustaceans that mackerel find irresistible. No live bait needed. Photo by Amy Kumler
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A mackerel fishing boat out at sea under a dramatic sky

Enviro: Small Fish, Big Impact

Eating Atlantic mackerel takes pressure off larger, overfished species like tuna. This allows the less abundant fish stocks to recover.

“Forage fish—such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies—are low in the food chain,” says Tatiana Lodder, Seafood Assessor for Good Fish Foundation, an organization dedicated to fish conservation. “There’s a lot of biomass and they’re much more resilient than the larger, higher trophic species.” In fact, the numbers of Atlantic mackerel actually appear to be increasing in our oceans. The Good Fish Foundation carefully assesses our mackerel stock to ensure there’s plenty left—for us and for other species that depend on them for food.

Illustration of the seafood food chain
Illustration: Ilka Hadlock
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Two workers talk amongst fishing lines and boxes aboard a mackerel fishing boat

Culture: Workers First

Fishermen Adrian Fernandez and Luis Miguel Fernandez on the mackerel boat Salvador Padre, heading out to the fishing grounds. Photo by Amy Kumler

Our mackerel fishers come from the village of Santoña, in the coastal province of Cantabria. They belong to a traditional local cofradía, or fishing association, which shares profits and guarantees worker safety and other benefits.

Founded 120 years ago, the Santoña cofradía is one of the oldest of its kind in Cantabria. “All the fishing here is artisanal—these are families, not big corporations— and they’re all members of the cofradía,” says José Ramon Fernández del Val, the seafood buyer for our production partner in northern Spain that processes and cans our Atlantic mackerel.

The village of San Vicente de la Barquera from a distance, with bridge and boats
In San Vicente de la Barquera, a Cantabrian village on the Bay of Biscay, the fate of the town’s 4,000 people is deeply intertwined with the health and productivity of the ocean at their doorstep. Photo by Amy Kumler
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A worker from the Good Fish foundation stands in a warehouse space with yellow walls, inspecting boxes of fish

Partners: Guided by Science

As part of her fieldwork, Tatiana Lodder of the Good Fish Foundation examines recent harvests at the local fish market. Santoña, Spain. Photo by Amy Kumler

We work with Good Fish Foundation, of Veenendaal, the Netherlands, to ensure that Bay of Biscay mackerel, as harvested by the Cantabrian fleet, remain a truly renewable resource.

As one of the few food companies that works in direct partnership with fish conservation and science organizations, our goal is to find solutions that protect, rather than deplete, our home planet. Good Fish evaluates the sustainability of fisheries in Europe and works with fishermen, fish farmers, processors and retailers to help seafood buyers make environmentally sound decisions about what to eat. The group also publishes a sustainable seafood guide for consumers and advises chefs.

A group of people stand on a beach holding large letters that spell out Good Fish
When the scientists and crew of the Good Fish Foundation take a day off from ensuring that we’ll have fish in the future, they head to—where else?—the beach.
Photo Courtesy of Good Fish Foundation
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Close shot of ceramic plates with Mackerel Nicoise salad

Shop Atlantic Mackerel

Mackerel Niçoise Salad. Photo by Thomas J. Story

Our mild, meaty Mackerel fillets are packed in organic extra-virgin olive oil and are available with four different seasonings: Lemon Caper, Spanish Paprika, Roasted Garlic and Smoked.

Stacked halves of a mackerel melt sandwich on a ceramic plate beside potato chips

Delicious Recipes

Our take on the classic tuna melt, with responsibly sourced and equally delicious Atlantic mackerel. Photo by Thomas J. Story

Pair our canned Atlantic mackerel with crackers, toast, salads, sandwiches, grains and pastas for an instant boost of flavor and nutrition. Once you crack open a can, you’ll find that the mackerel is as versatile as canned tuna—maybe even more so, because it’s milder and meatier. Some of our favorite Atlantic mackerel recipes: a Mackerel Melt sandwich, layered with crunchy dill pickles; a party-worthy Lemon Caper Mackerel pasta; and a main-course Mackerel Niçoise salad.