Where are the mackerel?
Summer should herald the arrival of mackerel along the North Devon coast a migration that once seemed as routine as the arrival of the swallows, martins and swifts. So far this year numbers have been very patchy as they were last year when many local boats suspended the traditional tourist trips in search of the species in embarrassment at a lack of fish.
This apparent decline in stocks is cause for grave concern for the mackerel are an essential part of the food chain. In addition to bass, tope, shark and other predatory sea fish the mackerel is also food for gannets and dolphins creatures the sighting of which often provide the highlight of a day on the water.
Catches of mackerel are not always entirely representative of stocks as water clarity can impact on the mackerel being able to see the lures. Populations can also vary greatly from local regions and I well remember just two years ago when huge catches were being made from many marks on the South Coast. I will never forget one evening when walking beside the water in Penzance seeing vast shoals of mackerel harassing whitebait within the harbour. The site of thousands of mackerel shimmering in the night and sound of water boiling as they feasted will live with me till I die.
I remember well looking out over a calm summer sea back in the seventies to see mackerel shoals erupting from the water.
It is easy to blame overfishing on the mackerel’s demise and the plundering of stocks by ocean going factory ships has without doubt caused mass casualties. Another factor could be global warming with reports of mackerel being abundant far further North than historically documented.
We once took the humble mackerel for granted but it is one of our most beautiful fish and a symbol of the health of our waters. Its demise could be a barometer of the health of our coastal waters. Where should we look for its salvation? Does the European Union offer the fish protection? Do we trust the UK government to put the survival of the mackerel high on its agenda?
It would be a tragedy for sea angling if the mackerel were to disappear from our waters. The ease of catching has spawned many an angler; from glimmering twisting fish upon a string of feathers to the pleasing plunge of a brightly tipped float followed by the pulsing fight of a mackerel on light tackle. We once commented if only mackerel grew larger they would be the most sort after fish in the sea. Today we may well comment; “If only we could catch a mackerel!”
And finally is there a better tasting fish fresh from the sea; fried in butter with a sprinkling of pepper?