Opportunistically recorded acoustic data support Northeast Atlantic mackerel expansion theory

Jeroen Van Der Kooij*, Sascha M M Fässler, David Stephens, Lisa Readdy, Beth E Scott, Beatriz A. Roel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Fisheries independent monitoring of widely distributed pelagic fish species which conduct large seasonal migrations is logistically complex and expensive. One of the commercially most important examples of such a species in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean is mackerel for which up to recently only an international triennial egg survey contributed to the stock assessment. In this study, we explore whether fisheries acoustic data, recorded opportunistically during the English component of the North Sea International Bottom Trawl Survey, can contribute to an improved understanding of mackerel distribution and provide supplementary data to existing dedicated monitoring surveys. Using a previously published multifrequency acoustic mackerel detection algorithm, we extracted the distribution and abundance of schooling mackerel for the whole of the North Sea during August and September between 2007 and 2013. The spatio-temporal coverage of this unique dataset is of particular interest because it includes part of the unsurveyed summer mackerel feeding grounds in the northern North Sea. Recent increases in landings in Icelandic waters during this season suggested that changes have occurred in the mackerel feeding distribution. Thus far it is poorly understood whether these changes are due to a shift, i.e. mackerel moving away from their traditional feeding grounds in the northern North Sea and southern Norwegian Sea, or whether the species' distribution has expanded. We therefore explored whether acoustically derived biomass of schooling mackerel declined in the northern North Sea during the study period, which would suggest a shift in mackerel distribution rather than an expansion. The results of this study show that in the North Sea, schooling mackerel abundance has increased and that its distribution in this area has not changed over this period. Both of these findings provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence in support of the hypothesis that mackerel have expanded their distribution rather than moved away.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1126
Number of pages12
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number4
Early online date19 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • feeding season
  • fisheries acoustics
  • NEA mackerel
  • North Sea
  • Scomber scombrus
  • ships of opportunity
  • widely distributed species


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