« December 2008 Table of Contents
Product Spotlight: Mackerel
Weak runs, strong overseas demand hurt mackerel imports
By April Forristall
December 01, 2008
Despite being considered one of the most healthful fish
species due to its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, mackerel
remains an underutilized species in the United States.
Most suppliers sell mackerel only as bait fish. Richard
Penfold, manager of Stonington Sea Products in Stonington,
Maine, says processors' inability to properly cut the fish -
which has to be shipped whole due to rapid oxidization - as
well as mackerel's flavor profile, are factors.
"The audience [for mackerel] is a specialized audience,"
says Penfold. "It's one of those products - people either love
it or they hate it. A lot of people think it's too strong and
they won't eat it."
Don Cynewski, seafood buyer at Ducktrap River of Maine,
agrees. "It's a fish lovers fish," says Cynewski. "It's very
oily, rich and flavorful."
Mackerel's oil content makes it perfect for smoking, which
is how both Stonington and Ducktrap process the fish.
Available year round with fisheries in Canada, Ireland,
Netherlands, Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United
States, mackerel is best from September to October when the
fish have built up enough fat to get them through the
While not a huge seller for either company, both Stonington
and Ducktrap say mackerel sales are steady, with no major peaks
and valleys. The past couple of years, however, supply has been
Chicken of the Sea's canned mackerel product sales are also
flat, resting at $7 million annually, according to John Sawyer,
senior VP of sales and marketing.
Always a popular fish in Asia, mackerel's inexpensive price
- usually around $1 per pound, and in the mid- to high- $1
range for retail products - combined with the economic downturn
make the species a hot commodity.
Exports of fresh mackerel to China totaled nearly 700,000
pounds through September - up from only 58,000 pounds during
the same period last year,
according to National Marine
Fisheries Service data.
"Over the last three or four years supply has been steady,
but demand from Asian countries, mainly China, has escalated
rapidly," says Cynewski, who adds that Canada's mackerel runs
in the past two or three years have been down.
"Last year was a poor year with low mackerel landings off
Nova Scotia and Newfoundland," says Penfold, adding that
landings there this year are down about two-thirds from last
NMFS data shows imports from Canada through September have
fallen by about 50,000 pounds compared to 2007.
Chicken of the Sea sourced its product from South America
until June, but changing ocean conditions have dropped imports
from the area by more than 10,000 pounds from last year.
That, coupled with the surge in demand overseas, have driven
mackerel prices to the mid-$2 range - more than double compared
with the winter of 2005-06.
While it may not be the biggest seller for the companies
that carry it, mackerel does have a strong following, mainly
from consumers who consider it to be traditional, cultural
cuisine. If the industry can begin to educate buyers more about
the healthfulness, low price and versatility, mackerel could
grow to be a more appreciated fish.
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at