Marine - Species
SC Species Regulations for King Mackerel
Saltwater Fishing License required.
Coastal Migratory Species Permit required for charter and headboats.
Limit: 3 per person per day; 24-inch FL minimum ; fishery open March 1 – February 28; fishery may be closed to all harvest if total allowable catch is met (state & federal waters).
King Mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla)
Back iridescent bluish-green; sides silver; first dorsal fin with light and uniform pigment and 14 – 16 spines; snout much shorter than rest of head; posterior maxilla (mouth) exposed and reaching posterior portion of eye; lateral line with abrupt downward curve at second dorsal fin.
33 inches, 10 pounds;
South Carolina State Record: 62 pounds (1976);
maximum age: approx. 14 years
Adults: Older fish inhabit high salinity, green ocean waters, near the surface or at moderate depths. May move inshore on higher tides and during summer. Often associated with outer reefs, wrecks, towers, and buoys.
Juveniles: Occur from mid-shelf to inshore waters and from the surface to moderate depths in water column. Individuals caught near fishing piers are typically older juveniles.
- Both sexes mature at 3 – 4 years of age; approx. size at maturity: males – 28 inches, females – 32 inches.
- Spawning occurs between Gulf Stream and high turbidity zone in nearshore waters. In South Carolina, spawning occurs April – September.
- Larvae remain in high salinity waters throughout development. Larvae may be present across continental shelf, but are often most abundant in middle to outer shelf waters.
- Adults and juveniles are prey on herring, anchovies, jacks, and menhaden. Juveniles also consume some squid and shrimp.
- Diet of larval king mackerel consists exclusively of fishes.
Availability/Vulnerability to Harvest
- Distribution is governed by temperature and salinity. Annual migration from South Carolina waters to overwintering grounds in south Florida occurs during fall. Northward migration occurs during spring and early summer.
- Smaller fish move in schools, older fish occur individually or in small groups. Tendency to associate with hard structure such as fishing piers may increase fishing pressure.
- Conservation concerns: potential for overfishing (especially in south Florida overwintering grounds); migratory nature increases management difficulty.
Abundance of Species
Graphs of abundance show relative annual abundance in South Carolina waters based on surveys conducted by the SC Department of Natural Resources.
Abundance is presented relative to the average of the 10 most recent years. Unlike graphs of the recreational and commercial fisheries catch, the abundance graphs use survey data that have been standardized to allow direct comparison among years.
The horizontal dotted lines above or below the "10 year average" represent one "standard deviation" unit, which is a measure of how variable the annual data are around the 10-year average. In general, the area between one standard deviation above the mean and one standard deviation below the average includes approximately 68% of the values. Approximately 95% percent of observations in the data set are found within two standard deviations of the average.
The recreational catch, while variable year to year, has been on a declining trend since the mid 1980's. The relatively low recent 10 year average (compared to the entire time series) reflects the low total catch in the last ten years. The most recent 10 year average total catch (2002-2012) was one third the average catch for the entire time series.
Commercial landings for king mackerel reflect a similar trend to the recreational landings with peak landings occurring in the 1980's and early 1990's. There has been a steady decline in commercial landings since 1990 with the latest 10 year average (2002-2012) landings at 23,400 lbs versus 115,873 lbs for the previous ten years (1991-2001).
Berrien PL, D Finan. 1977. Biological and fisheries data on king mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla (Cuvier). U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Natl. Mar. Fish. Serv. Sandy Hook Lab., Tech. Ser. Rep. no. 8, 40 pp.
Collins MR, BW Stender. 1987. Larval king mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla), Spanish mackerel (S. maculatus), and bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) off the southeast coast of the United States, 1973 – 1980. Bull Mar Sci 41: 822-834.
Fischer W. 1978. FAO identification sheets for fisheries purposes: western central Atlantic (fishing area 31) volume 1 – 7. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
Godcharles MF, MD Murphy. 1986. Species profiles: life histories and environmental requirements of coastal fishes and invertebrates (south Florida) – king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. U.S. Fish Wildl Serv Biol Rep 82(11.58). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, TR EL-82-4. 18pp. Accessed: September, 2009.
Goldstein RJ. 2000. Coastal fishing in the Carolinas: from surf, pier, and jetty. John F. Blair Publisher, Winston-Salem, NC. 243 pp.
Moore CJ. 1996. A field guide to the identification of marine species regulated in South Carolina coastal waters. Office of Fisheries Management, Marine Resources Division, South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, Charleston, SC. 105 pp.
Moore CJ, M Barkley. 2005. South Carolina's guide to saltwater fishes. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Special Publication. Columbia, SC. 132 pp.