The king mackerel are biting, but so are the Spanish mackerel, and fishermen are getting them confused.
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. In fact, the North Carolina Marine Patrol recently handed out 12 tickets to recreational fishermen in the southern coastal area of the state for taking undersized king mackerel and possessing over the bag limit of king mackerel.
“In one day, we seized 58 fish,” said Officer Jon Hall, who patrolled the Cape Fear River at Southport one recent Saturday.
On a recent weekend, Marine Patrol seized 81 king mackerel from recreational fishermen in the southern coastal area. The seized fish were donated to a charity.
“People are just misidentifying king mackerel as being Spanish mackerel,” Hall said.
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.
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 are allowed to keep three fish per person, per day.
The size limit for Spanish mackerel is 12 inches fork length, and recreational fishermen are allowed to keep 15 fish per person, per day.
For more information, please visit the state marine fisheries agency’s website at http://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/marine-fisheries.