State urges fishermen to learn the difference between king mackerel and Spanish mackerel

Morehead City, NC

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries is asking anglers to make sure they know how to distinguish between king mackerel and Spanish mackerel before keeping one of the fish.

Confusing these two fish is problematic because the size limit on king mackerel is twice the length of the size limit for Spanish mackerel, and the bag limit for Spanish mackerel is five times higher than the bag limit for the kings.

Anglers who get them mixed up may be forced to pay up to $255 in fines and court costs. To avoid getting a ticket, anglers need to learn to tell the difference between the two fish.

Adult Spanish mackerel and juvenile king mackerel can look a lot alike. Both are long, slender fish with a forked tail and bronze-colored spots on the body. But the Spanish mackerel features a black spot on the first dorsal fin that the king mackerel lacks.

Also, the king mackerel has a pronounced dip in the lateral line below the second dorsal fin. The line on the Spanish mackerel gently curves to the tail.

A color graphic showing the difference can be downloaded here.

The size limit for king mackerel is 24 inches fork length (from the tip of the snout to the fork in the tail). Recreational fishermen may keep three fish per person, per day.

The size limit for Spanish mackerel is 12 inches fork length, and recreational fishermen may keep 15 fish per person, per day.

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