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Advances in the aquatic sciences

Mercury in king mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla, and Spanish mackerel, S. maculatus, from waters of the south-eastern USA: regional and historical trends

Douglas H. Adams A C and Robert H. McMichael Jr B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 1220 Prospect Ave, #285, Melbourne, FL 32901, USA.

B Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 100 Eighth Ave SE, St Petersburg, FL 33701, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 58(2) 187-193
Submitted: 31 May 2006  Accepted: 7 December 2006   Published: 8 February 2007


Mackerels and other piscivorous marine fishes can contain significant levels of mercury. To monitor and better understand mercury levels in mackerel populations, total mercury concentrations were analysed in dorsal muscle tissue from 279 king mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla, and from 580 Spanish mackerel, S. maculatus, collected from offshore and coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico in the south-eastern USA. Mercury levels in king mackerel ranged from 0.19 to 3.6 ppm (mean = 0.94 ppm; median = 0.65 ppm) on the Atlantic coast and from 0.18 to 4.0 ppm (mean = 1.51 ppm; median = 1.3 ppm) on the gulf coast. Total mercury levels for Spanish mackerel ranged from 0.04 to 1.3 ppm (mean = 0.32 ppm; median = 0.27 ppm) on the Atlantic coast and from 0.09 to 3.2 ppm (mean = 0.53 ppm; median = 0.44 ppm) on the gulf coast. Data from the present study suggest that Gulf of Mexico king and Spanish mackerel contain significantly higher levels of mercury than those from the Atlantic coast. Total mercury levels and fish length were positively related in both species and in both regions. A positive relationship between total mercury levels and king mackerel age was also detected. No differences in mercury levels were observed between males and females within either species. Comparisons of pre- and post-1996 mercury levels indicated a short-term historical decline in total mercury levels of Spanish mackerel from gulf-coast waters between 1990 and 2002. Further, mercury levels of these species were higher than those recorded in the 1970s.

Additional keywords: fisheries, heavy metals, marine contaminants, Scombridae.


We thank T. Chandrasekhar and the staff of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the laboratory analyses that made this study possible. We greatly appreciate the efforts of staff from the FWC-FWRI Fisheries-Independent Monitoring Program and Fisheries-Dependent Monitoring Program for their assistance in collecting fish and processing samples. Many thanks to D. DeVries and C. Palmer for providing king mackerel age data. D. Axelrad, J. Leiby, R. Paperno, F. Price, J. Quinn and A.Willis offered helpful suggestions that improved the manuscript. This study was supported in part by funding from the Department of the Interior, USA Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration, Project F-43, and by State of Florida Saltwater Recreational Fishing Licence monies.


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