- Although the flesh of the almaco jack is considered quality table fare, the species has been associated with ciguatera poisoning, a seldom fatal stomach irritation.
- The almaco jack is susceptible to tapeworm parasites in the caudal peduncle area, but the meat can be eaten safely if affected portions are cut away.
King mackerel (Scomberomorus)
King mackerel, most commonly referred to as kingfish, are the largest of the mackerel family. They are swift and powerful swimmers, demonstrated by dramatic jumps from the water. Typical coloration is dark gray to gray-green to blue-green on the back, with a silver hue on the sides, fading to a white or silver belly. The fins are pale, with the exception of the first dorsal fin, which is blue. Kings have a distinct lateral line, which begins to curve downward at the second dorsal fin. There are no additional stripes or spots on the body, except for juvenile kings, which have five or six rows of bronze spots. There are about 60 extremely sharp teeth equally divided on each of the jaws. The body is covered in scales and coated in mucous, which assists in movement and fighting illness.
The two dorsal fins, which touch, have 12 to 18 spines and 15 to 18 soft rays, respectively. The pectoral fins have 21 to 23 soft-rays. The pelvic fins are located on the underside and the anal fin has 16 to 20 soft-rays. The peduncle has a large keel, and the caudal fin is significantly forked and has two keels. There are seven to 10 finlets running from the dorsal and anal fins to the widely forked tail.
Large numbers of herring, shad, sardine, pilchard, menhaden, jack, anchovy, mullet and drum are consumed by the king mackerel. They also consume smaller amounts of shrimp and squid. In a year, they will eat about 4.5 times their body weight in food.
These fish are predators who are aided by their forceful jaws and sharp teeth. If needed, they can leap out of the water as they pursue their prey.
An abundant fish, king mackerel are found in subtropical and tropical waters in the western Atlantic Ocean between 45 degrees north and 25 degrees south latitude. The distribution of kings in coastal regions changes seasonally, though there are some permanent populations in warmer waters. It is suspected that there are two distinct populations of king mackerel, one in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Gulf of Mexico.
Biologists indicate their range is from the Gulf of Maine to southern Brazil, however, they are only found from Virginia to Maine in the very warmest months or years. The largest numbers found in the Atlantic roam the area from Florida to northern Brazil, including the Caribbean Sea. The population within the Gulf of Mexico can be found along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
This species lives in open water offshore as well as shallower coastal waters near beaches and in estuaries. These areas often include coral reefs, piers, wrecks and buoys, especially when baitfish are plentiful. King mackerel favor clear, calm waters with temperatures above 68 F and depths between 65 and 300 feet. In addition, they can be found in areas with high salinity levels. They are also known to frequent bays, reefs, piers, wrecks, etc. where there are large populations of baitfish and are known to congregate in areas where there are contours or breaks in elevation.
Most king mackerel migrate every year with changes in water temperatures. They also travel in schools, though they seem to become more solitary as they grow older.
- In certain areas, caution should be exercised before consumption, because there have been cases of ciguatera poisoning in some populations.
- The high quality meat is often cut into steaks but is also marketed fresh, canned, frozen, salted and smoked.
- Their Latin name translates as spiny-finned marine fish (scomberomorus) and horse or large (cavalla).
- Eating king mackerel longer than 32 inches is discouraged because they often have high levels of mercury.
- Anglers should be sure to contact local fish and game agencies since there are regulations in some states.