When most fishermen along the Atlantic coast think of mackerel, images of King Mackerel or Spanish Mackerel likely come to mind. But there are two lesser-known species that are also important – especially when it comes to feeding other fish. Both Bullet Mackerel and Frigate Mackerel, sometimes referred to as tuna, are a preferred meal for prized game fish such as Wahoo and Blue Marlin.
Data collected from blue water fishing tournaments along the mid-Atlantic coast for over two decades, including in-depth stomach content analyses, show that the Bullet and Frigate Mackerel are especially important to Wahoo, making up nearly half of their diet. Additional studies from regional billfish tournaments further south, including The Big Rock Tournament in Morehead City, NC and the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series, along with data collected from charter and commercial vessels, also emphasize the importance of Bullet Mackerel and Frigate Mackerel as food for apex predators such as Wahoo, Dolphin, and Marlin.
Currently, there isn’t a directed commercial fishery for Bullet and Frigate Mackerel. Recreational fishermen occasionally target the forage species as bait. However, there is potential that a high-volume commercial fishery could quickly develop if conditions warrant, based on experience in the Mid-Atlantic, leaving the two species vulnerable to harvest.
This scenario occurred in 2013 when the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council witnessed a targeted commercial fishery develop for Chub Mackerel, a relative of Bullet and Frigate Mackerel. During a downturn in the squid fishery, commercial trawlers turned to Chub Mackerel, increasing harvest from a little over 150,000 pounds to more than 5 million pounds within a single year. The Mid-Atlantic Council quickly developed a plan to manage the Chub Mackerel fishery and protect other forage fish in the region from uncontrolled harvest. Bullet and Frigate Mackerel were included in the initial plan but were removed when the plan was reviewed by NOAA Fisheries.
The Mid-Atlantic Council in turn reached out to the South Atlantic Council, requesting that both mackerel species be added to the Dolphin Wahoo Fishery Management Plan (FMP) as ecosystem species, acknowledging their ecological role as forage fish for Dolphin and Wahoo. The Dolphin Wahoo Plan is administered by the South Atlantic Council and management extends along the entire Atlantic coast. In response to the request, Amendment 12 to the Dolphin Wahoo FMP has been developed to add Bullet Mackerel and Frigate Mackerel as ecosystem component species to the FMP.
Support for Designation
The designation of Bullet and Frigate Mackerel as ecosystem component species received strong support during public scoping comments. A total of 117 comments were received, including a letter of support from marine scientist Dr. John Graves, who has served as chair of the U.S. Advisory Committee to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas for nearly 25 years. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee as well as its Dolphin Wahoo Advisory Panel and the Habitat Protection and Ecosystem-Based Management Advisory Panel also supported the actions.
In a letter from the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, President Tom Twyford notes, “Dolphin and Wahoo are among the most sought-after pelagic species in southeast Florida. Both species are extremely valuable to the recreational and commercial fishery and help support a robust marine industry that is a significant economic driver in our region.” The letter encourages the designation of Bullet and Frigate Mackerel as ecosystem component species noting, “This forward-thinking approach represents good stewardship and is one of the best ways to ensure populations of pelagic species remain healthy.”
The Council is scheduled to approve Amendment 12 to the Dolphin Wahoo FMP during its September meeting via webinar. Online public comments will be accepted on the Amendment as part of the meeting and a public hearing will also be held during the meeting week. Additional information will be posted at: https://safmc.net/safmc-meetings/council-meetings/ as it becomes available.[Return to Newsletter]