How To:

How To Identify Florida's 3 Mackerel Species.

Author: Landshark (Alumni)

Mackerel, Juvenile Kings or Spanish Mackerel?

After posting a video in which I caught a handful of juvenile king mackerel, many people commented that I had mistaken them for Spanish mackerel. I had know that what I caught were in fact Juvenile Kings and NOT Spanish mackerel, despite popular "internet" opinion.

The Video That Started It All 

Know your Mackerel.

To the unknowing fishermen, a Spanish mackerel can look VERY similar to a juvenile kingfish, but there are some serious differences between the two. Why am I writing this? Well first of all I have seen many uneducated fishermen leave the pier with dozens of undersized king mackerel, when they had mistaken them for Spanish mackerel and suffered the consequences with a hefty fine from an FWC officer. Secondly, as a fishermen in Florida there is no excuse to NOT educate yourself when it comes to the species that roam our waters. 

When my Girlfriend and I went offshore one day, we had caught all three species of mackerel that can be found in Florida's waters. Video below!

This had presented me with the perfect opportunity to make a video showcasing the differences between these 3 mackerel. Video Found Below!

Find Out Below How To Tell Between A Spanish, Cero, and King Mackerel

Now with all that being said, Let me jump into some narrative that will help you Discern between these 3 species. 

Below From Left to Right (#1 King, #2 Cero and #3 Spanish)
Kingfish, Spanish, And Cero Mackerel

King Mackerel (Kingfish)

How To Tell A Kingfish Apart From Other Mackerel

 Regulations: These are the biggest of the 3 species and have a minimum size limit of 24' to the fork tail, with a bag limit of 2 per person per day. 

How To Be Sure You Have Caught A Kingfish

1) Juvenile Kings Can Have Spots: Juvenile kings tend to have faint gold colored spots running along the midline of their body, these spots are most often visible when you first catch them. 

Kingfish Spots

3) Look At The Kingfishes' Lateral Line: The Kingfish has a a pronounced dip in their lateral line right around their anal fin. 

Kingfish Lateral Line

3) Look at the kingfish's dorsal fin: Kingfish have a grey pale colored dorsal fin vs. the jet black dorsals of spanish and cero mackerel.

Cero Mackerel

Cero Mackerel

Regulations: The least common of the 3, but in my opinion the best tasting. This mackerel has no size limit or bag limit.

How To Be Sure You Have Caught A Cero Mackerel

1) The Lateral Line: The Cero has a lateral line resembling that of the Spanish mackerel, with only a slight dip towards the anal fin.

Cero Mackerel Lateral Line

2) The Dorsal Fin:  It has a jet black dorsal fin, much like the spansih mackerel. 

Spanish Mackerel Dorsal Fin

3) The Coloration: Lastly the biggest giveaway to the Cero mackerel are those pronounced yellow bars running along its midline. This is the dead giveaway for this species, unlike the spots found in the Spanish and cero. 

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel

Regulations: The Spanish mackerel, is what you generally think of when you hear "mackerel" in Florida. The Spanish has a min size limit of 12" to the fork and a bag limit of 15 fish per person per day. 

How To Be Sure You Have Caught A Spanish Mackerel

 1) The Lateral Line: The lateral line has a slight dip towards the anal fin. 

Lateral Line For Spanish Mackerel

2) The Coloration: The most notorious feature of the Spanish are the yellow spots visible along its body. These spots are lighter in color than the spots found in the king mackerel. 

Coloration For Spanish Mackerel

3) The Dorsal Fin: The Spanish has a jet black dorsal fin just like the Cero Mackerel.

Spanish Mackerel Dorsal Fin

In summation, when you are trying to ID your mackerel catch look for these 3 features. The grayish pale colored dorsal fin and pronounced dip in lateral line near anal fin, are tell tale signs you have a king mackerel. To distinguish between Cero and Spanish mackerel, look for the bright yellow spots on the Spanish and the bars on the Cero. 

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