Mackerel / Atlantic Mackerel – Biscay

C100167, C100178, C100179, C100189, C100191, C100192, C100210, C100211, C100216, C100222, C100240, C100247, C100248, C100251, C100252, C100265, C100266, C100269, C100270, C100283, C100284, C100289, C100290, C100291, c100296, C100453, C100474, C100475, C100480, C100481, C100489, C100490, C100492, C100507, C100512, C100513, C100516, C100527, CON003, CON007, CON010, CON024, CON025, CON031, CON032, and CON061

The Product

General Name: Mackerel / Atlantic Mackerel – Biscay

Latin name:  scomber scombrus

Alternative names: Mackerel, Boston Mackerel, Saba (sushi), Caballa (Sp)


The fishers

The Cofradia of Laredo is one of the oldest fishing guilds of Spain with origins lost in the mist of time. Composed of 18 boats in total and with St Martin as patron saint, still celebrated on the 11th of November, this is an artisanal small scale fishery that has invested in modern storage and hygiene facilities to deliver restaurant quality of fish. Both scombus scombus, the traditional mackerel, and scombus colias are fished by these boats which also catch the celebrated “bonito del Norte” (albacore) tuna. The vast bulk of the traditional mackerel fishery is fished in the North Atlantic between Scotland, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway but at the start of spring the same fish stock is found in the North of Spain which in 2019 accounted for less less than 4% of the total catch.

FAO area: FAO 27 8.c

Port: Santoña

Authority: The local fishing authorities of Cantabria in Northern Spain

Seasonal information: March, April, early May

The Method

Hand Line

Fish harvesters use a handline, which is a string of about 12 to 15 metres equipped with various hooks and a lead in the end. The hand line is thrown from a vessel and then is handpicked with the help of a reel. On some boats this reel works mechanically to help improve the quality of the catches. This method is highly selective, minimizing discards and the accidental catch of non-commercial or protected species and also delivers fish in the best possible quality. There are three types of handline methods ika-shibi (nighttime) method, palu-ahi (daytime) method and seamount fishing (which combines both handline and troll methods).

The Species


Two major stock of scomber scombus or Atlantic Mackerel exist. The first and largest is in North Europe surrouding the UK and EIRE all the way up to the Faroe Islands, Norway and Iceland as well into the whole of the Baltic Sea and with a smaller cohort along the Iberian paninsula and even into the Mediterranean. The second mirrors the first on the North American Atlantic Coast ranging from from North Carolina up to Newfoundland. Mackerel is fast swimming and forms vast schoals of fish, can live to the age of 20 years old and are able to reproduce by the time they reach age two to three. Most the UK mackerel is caught North of Scotland and originates from two different spawning stocks - a Western (towards Ireland and the South of England) and a North Sea component. Mackerel head south to spawn and then return well fed, fatter, oilier and larger into the North East Atantic, North of Scotland.

The Location:

Bay of Biscay, North of Spain – Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country


Eco-ratings/certifications: n/a

Resource Management: Scomber scombrus lost it’s MSC rating in 2019 – for the second time due to an ongoing dispute between Norway/EU (including Scotland) and Iceland over catch levels. iceland has fished outside the agreed TAC levels and as a result is accused of endangering stock levels. The situation is vastly complicated by a) the fact the resource has moved further North due to warming seas and b) differing models and estimates of what the maximum catch should be and how healthy stock levels are, assesed for example through fish egg sampling, and the observation of fishers involved in the fishery. The mackerel fishery in the North of Spain accounts for a small proportion of the total catch, well below 5%.

Local Management: Fishers are licensed and managed by the government of the autonomous region of Cantabria in Spain. Local fishermen are organised in Cofradia (Fishermen guilds) which represent the sector and obtain fishing rights and organise the collective exploitation of the resource.

Monitoring & Traceability: In Spain no landing is allowed outside of government controlled auction houses where fish catch details are logged and tracked. Each boat is licensed and controlled as to catch quantities by the fishing authorities working on site.

Conservation Measures: Handlining has a low impact on marine habitats. A number of controls address conservation in the mackerely handline fishery. These include: Establishment of annual total allowable catches, Limitations on the number and types of fishing vessels, controls on fishing gear, fishing area and time closures.

By-catch/discard: Insignificant

Endangered Species: No interaction/impact.

Eco-system damage: Mackerel is a pelagic fish so there is no impact on the sea floor and habitat.

How is it made?

Production: The production supports local fishers and employs local people in the cannery. It’s a family business across generations. Production is well managed, controlled by local authorities for phyto-sanitary and hygiene issues and involved a lot of careful hand-work. Each lott is tracked as to the fish origins and that of any additional ingredient. Fish4Ever only uses certified organic ingredients: this means the factory is controlled and inspected and only natural processes and ingredients are allowed.

Social factors: No issues. This is a democratic and egalitarian small scale local fishery closely managed by the guild and the fishing authorities. Boats in Laredo are owned and captained by different fishers, operate under the local flag state and the catch is shared by many similarly structured Cofradias all along the North Spanish coast. The factory is a small family owned business based in Galicia with highly regulated (EU) labour standards.

Political factors: No issues