Atlantic mackerel arriving at a wharf near you: As season opens, new study sheds light on recreational fishery impacts and stewardship role  | Ecology Action Centre

Atlantic mackerel arriving at a wharf near you: As season opens, new study sheds light on recreational fishery impacts and stewardship role 

Photo credit: Mackenzie Sapier 



Kjipuktuk (Halifax) – Atlantic mackerel have begun arriving to Nova Scotian waters, and this means recreational fishers will start heading to wharfs in search of the province’s best-known forage fish.  A new study by the Ecology Action Centre shows that recreational fishers play an important stewardship role in protecting the mackerel population. 

The EAC has released a report today with key findings from a two-year study on recreational fishing of mackerel on wharfs around the Halifax municipality. The release of the report coincides with new regulations on recreational fishing for mackerel coming into force today that will help to protect the population that has been commercially fished to a historically low level.  

Recreational fishing is an important connection for many to our ocean with thousands of people across the province fishing mackerel for food and leisure. It also has potential impacts on the health of the mackerel population. The EAC headed out to the wharfs to better understand the local knowledge of recreational fishers and to gain a better understanding of size and quantities of fish being kept. 

“The wealth of knowledge recreational fishers have regarding fish and the environment is invaluable. Many of these fishers have been out at the same spots for decades, their observations about migration timing, behaviour of fish, and the size of mackerel getting smaller were spot on with the science assessments,” says Shannon Arnold, EAC’s Senior Marine Program Coordinator. 

EAC’s What’s Happening at the Wharf? Nova Scotia Recreational Mackerel Fishing Survey was conducted at six locations around Halifax and offers some important findings on this under studied fishery. The survey found a high compliance with minimum size rules with 74 per cent of fishers taking care to measure their fish and less than 10 per cent of catch spot checked for measurement by the EAC research team being undersized. Most fishers were keeping less than 20 fish per trip and when participants were asked how they felt about additional regulations, 83 per cent supported the introduction of a per day bag limit. This bodes well for compliance with the new federal regulations on the fishery. 

Another key finding from the study was that 68 per cent of fishers are keeping the mackerel they catch for food or to use as bait for other recreational fishing. While overall take is likely minor compared to the commercial take, this high level of retention does mean that introducing an enforceable daily limit on recreational mackerel fishing is important. 

“We know the commercial fishery has been the main driver of decline for this forage fish species. However, the population is at such a critical level that it is essential to account for every fish taken from this struggling stock—even off our local wharfs. This is why engaging with recreational fishers and educating the public is integral to a healthy mackerel population,” says Rebecca Brushett, lead author of the report for the EAC. “Recreational fishers can be stewards for this stock by learning the new regulations, measuring all catches and releasing all undersized fish with care.” 

EAC is pleased to see new regulations in the recreational fishery that may help with rebuilding the mackerel population. EAC wants to see Atlantic Canadians having access to mackerel for food and recreation for generations to come, and hopes that studies like this will help inform policy decisions to support the recovery of this important little fish.  



Media Contact: 

Shannon Arnold, Senior Marine Program Coordinator  or (902) 329 - 4668  


Additional Information:  

  • Read EAC’s report - What’s Happening at the Wharf? Nova Scotia Recreational Mackerel Fishing Survey: Key Findings 
  • EAC has been an active participant on the DFO Management and Rebuilding Plan working group tables since 2016 to offer recommendations for sustainable management of this at-risk fish stock.  
  • New recreational fishing regulations come into force May 26, 2021: 
  • Atlantic mackerel is considered a forage fish and makes up a critical piece of the ocean food web, serving as prey for many ecologically important species including tuna, sharks and whales. Mackerel also supports a number of economically important commercial fisheries as both catch and bait (e.g., for the American lobster, cod and tuna fisheries) and also provide a direct connection to the ocean for the many Nova Scotians who fish for them.   
  • Since 2010, the Atlantic mackerel fish stock has been in the critical zone and population is now at the lowest ever recorded, just 8 per cent of the population in 1980s.  
  • DFO announced last week that the commercial fishing quota of mackerel for 2021 will be cut in half to encourage population growth, which is a step forward, however the population is still very much in trouble. DFO also stated that if the spawning mackerel population doesn’t increase over the next two years, the next step could be a complete Atlantic mackerel fishery closure.