Due to an enthusiastic ability to spawn, the mackerel derives its name from maquerel, Old French for pimp or producer. Surely a fish worth knowing better.
I have heard of a challenge to catch a mackerel in every month of the year, probably possible but more likely achieved further south in Cornish waters 2ºC warmer. The sea surrounding Mull, Ulva, Staffa and the Treshnish Isles is cooler than England’s south coast so mackerel arrive later and leave earlier. Migrating from open seas, they come to the shallow coastal waters of West Scotland in late spring where they remain until the end of September.
A primitive fish with no swim bladder, the mackerel keeps moving just to avoid sinking and, like sharks, have a passive gill ventilation method of breathing so they too must continually be swimming with open mouths to pass water over their gills to breathe.
Despite this, or perhaps because of this, they are superb swimmers – swift, manoeuvrable and able to retract their fins to improve streamlining, improve energy saving and to achieve the highest of speeds for a fish of its size. They can swim hard and fast and, with speeds of up to five metres a second on the burst, they are in a speed league of their very own.
Fastest in class
This fish needs the speed for it is hunted by formidable predators – dolphins, seals, diving seabirds, whales and sharks all hunt mackerel in sophisticated, cooperative and lethal ways. Moreover a mackerel’s cousins, fathers, brothers and larger sized friends hunt him too. So long as a mackerel is small it is prey, so their trick is to feed and grow and to do so to fast – the food chain pyramid may be impossible to avoid but a mackerel’s position within can be greatly promoted.
Apart from having to swim just to counter their natural state to sink, to run just to ensure they can breathe, life for a mackerel is hard. But they are rewarded tenfold.
Red muscle tissue, heated by warmed blood carrying more oxygen, allow them to burn energy at a ferocious rate and more quickly than all other typically cold blooded fish. Others in the same Scombridae family, such as tuna, sailfish, wahoo and bonito, can swim at speeds of up to 75 km/h (45 mph) on the burst.
The Scombridae family are the cheetah, the gazelle and the rhino of the underwater world all in one – no other fish in their class can outrun, outbox or outmanoeuvre prey in the same way.
Both the Mackerel and the sardine existed in the Paleocene period 65 million years ago. So the mackerel gene stands on the shoulders of giants, predators best in class – a respected adversary and Octane only takes the number required for each evening meal around the campfire.
Mackerel have a lean red meat, full of healthy oils good for the brain that helps us remember. They are so beautiful that even a high altitude and immaculately ordered cloud formation (more formally defined Cirrocumulus) takes their name.
On Hebridean islands they make for a gift that is gratefully received and never wasted in remote and rural areas – at least I am not conscious of meeting a farmer who gives them to his dog soon after I take my leave.
Thankfully mackerel are not too clever and, for a fish which helps us remember, they are remarkably easy to outfox. In a post to follow I will show just how easy they are to catch – even without a lure!
Octane offers gastro wilderness expeditions and, employing Octane’s Eight** methods of sourcing wild food for the pot, we eat the world’s best food, ocean fresh*.
*The term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught, prepared, cooked and eaten same-day.
**Octane’s Eight is our philosophy. We believe our travelling guests, being closest to the world’s wildest fresh foods, might quite like to eat the world’s wildest fresh foods. 1. we line fish, 2. we lobster pot, 3. we spear fish, 4. we sea forage, 5. we land forage, 6. we stalk, 7. we seed the sea, 8. we seed the land. Why is it campers and ramblers feel so obliged to consume biltong, baked beans and instant coffee?
See ocean fresh in practice with the post ‘Drive through calamari’ – ocean fresh calamari caught, cooked and served in under an hour