Spanish Mackerel vs Cero Mackerel: The Fish Differences

Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel are very similar. For this reason many people ask about their differences. Let’s answer, what’s the difference between a Spanish mackerel and a cero mackerel? Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel are different species although from the same family and genus. Cero mackerel have yellow spots and a yellow line running down their sides. Spanish mackerel doesn’t have the yellow line, just spots. This article will compare their tastes, textures, cooking methods, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of their habitats, appearance and compare their nutritional value. During my health coaching session, many of my clients ask about seafood including mackerel. In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article.

Spanish Mackerel and Cero Mackerel: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance

When someone is shopping in the market for fillets, whole fish or fishing for a mackerel in the water, it may not be immediately obvious which kind they’re looking at. For this reason, we want to find out a simple method for identifying which one is which. To tell the difference between a Spanish and cero mackerel check their side markings and pectoral fins. Cero mackerel have a yellow line and spots on their sides. Spanish mackerel only have yellow spots minus the line. Cero mackerel’s scales extend onto the pectoral fins. The Spanish mackerel pectoral fin doesn’t have scales. Other ways to tell the difference are:
  • Spanish mackerels have a dark spot on the front dorsal fin. Cero Mackerels have a bluish-black spot on the front dorsal fin.
Cero Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel photo comparison

Spanish Mackerel and Cero Mackerel Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

Spanish mackerels are from:
  • Family: Scombridae
  • Genus: Scomberomorus
  • Species: S. maculatus
  • Common nicknames: Spotted mackerel, spotted cybium.
Cero mackerels are from:
  • Family: Scombridae
  • Genus: Scomberomorus
  • Species: S. regalis
  • Common nicknames: Cero, painted mackerel, pintado, kingfish.
Both are from the same family and genus but are different fish species. There are mackerel species which people sometimes confuse for another. Let’s take a quick look at those.

Sierra Mackerel

Sierra mackerel are found in the Pacific Ocean but are a different species than Pacific Chub or Pacific Jack.

Horse Mackerel

The pacific jack mackerel was originally called horse mackerel. The FDA allowed the name to be officially changed in 1948 to increase its marketability.

Atlantic Mackerel

The mackerel Atlantic is found off the Atlantic coast of the United States in The Atlantic Ocean. They are not the same as the Atlantic chub mackerel.

King Mackerel

The mackerel king is found in The Atlantic Ocean, The Gulf of Mexico and South America. They are also found in the Indian Ocean.

Spanish Mackerel and Cero Mackerel Habitats and Fishing

Spanish mackerel habitats
  • They are found off the Atlantic Ocean coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico. They are far north as Massachusetts and south down to Florida.
  • They prefer shallow waters and sand bottoms in depths from 10 to 40 feet.
Cero mackerel habitats
  • They are found off the Atlantic Ocean coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico and South America. They are as far north as Massachusetts and south past Florida down to Brazil.
  • They prefer swimming in depths from 3 to 66 feet.
Both are found along the eastern coast of the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico and South America.

Boating and Fishing

Before going fishing, be sure to check your State park’s education programs and wildlife websites. To catch mackerel fishing, refer to the State or county for any limitations and waters where fishing may have regulations. Many people target May and June as a good time for mackerel fishing, this may be different depending on your area. Dawn or dusk may be a good time for fishing.
Spanish Mackerel and Cero Mackerel photo comparison
top Spanish Mackerel bottom Cero Mackerel

Appearance

Spanish and Cero Mackerel Colors
  • Spanish mackerels have a greenish back, silver sides and belly. They have yellow or olive green spots on their sides.
  • Cero mackerels have a greenish back, silver sides and belly. They have yellowish spots on their sides and a yellow, lateral, broken line running down the sides.
Both have a silver belly. Spanish mackerels have yellow spots and no yellow line. Cero mackerels have yellow spots and a broken yellow line. They are similar in appearance and coloration. Dorsal Fins
  • Both have two dorsal fins. Their front dorsal has about 15 spines and the front is taller than the rear. The second dorsal has about 15 soft rays.
The front of the Spanish mackerel first dorsal fin is black. The front dorsal fin on the cero mackerel is bluish-black. Anal Fins
  • They both have one anal fin having soft rays with no spines.
Tail Fins
  • Both have a deeply forked tail fin resembling a boomerang.
Mouth
  • They both have a large mouth but it doesn’t extend past the eye line. They have a single row of cutting edged teeth on both jaws.
Body Shape
  • Both mackerel have a long, narrow body which tapers towards the tail. They’re both the same shape.
Distinguishing Marks Spanish Mackerel
  • They have a lateral line on the sides from the rear of the gill cover to rear. The lateral line begins higher and gradually slops down towards the middle of the body towards the tail.
  • They have a dark spot at the front of the first dorsal fin.
  • They have yellow spots on their sides.
Cero Mackerel
  • They have a lateral line on the sides from the rear of the gill cover to rear. The lateral line begins higher and gradually slops down towards the middle of the body towards the tail.
  • They have a bluish-black spot at the front of the first dorsal fin.
  • They have yellow spots on their sides.
  • They have a yellow lateral, broken line running down their sides.
  • The small scales extend out onto the pectoral fins.
A picture showing the Cero mackerel scales
Cero Mackerel scales
Scales
  • The scales on both are small. The Cero mackerel scales extend onto the pectoral fin.

Size and Weight

  • Spanish mackerels averages 19-33 inches long and up to 10 pounds. The females grow longer and weigh more than the males.
  • Cero mackerels can grow to 12-15 inches long and average 8 pounds or more.
Lifespan
  • Spanish mackerels live up to 12 years.
  • Cero mackerels live up to 12 years.

Diet

Spanish mackerel consumes the following:
  • Small fish
  • Anchovies
  • Shrimp
  • Squid
  • Herring
  • Menhaden
  • Alewives
Cero mackerel consume the following:
  • Squid
  • Shrimp
  • Herring
  • Clupeidea
  • Striped anchovies
  • Minnows
  • Blue runners
Species Resources 1 2 Many people like to know how Spanish and King mackerel compare to each other. I wrote an article on them which you can check out, Spanish Mackerel vs King Mackerel – What’s The Difference?

Tastes and Textures

One of the main reasons people chooses a particular food to eat is its taste and texture. When comparing the two, let’s examine if they taste the same and which one is better. Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel have a similar medium flavor taste. Their flavor is not considered mild or sweet. They have an oily flesh but Spanish mackerel is a little more oilier. Both have a similar firm texture which breaks apart into small flakes.  Spanish mackerel have a medium taste. The fish is slightly oily due to its high fat content. The texture is firm and breaks apart into small flakes. Cero mackerel have a medium taste. The flesh is slightly oily but not as much as Spanish or king mackerels. The texture is firm and flaky. To conduct some original research, I polled clients, readers and members of food groups I belong to. The following are the results of my poll which consisted of 53 people. I asked which one tasted better?
  • 63% preferred the taste of cero mackerel.
  • 29% preferred the taste of Spanish mackerel.
  • 8% said they had no preference between the two.
If you’re interested in the differences between a king mackerel and an Atlantic mackerel, check out my article, King Mackerel vs Mackerel: What’s The Difference? We Compare.

Substitutions

When preparing recipes for dinner you may have one type already in the refrigerator ready to be used. In addition, it’s not always possible to locate the type of seafood called for in the recipe. If you have only one type of mackerel, you may wonder if you can substitute one for the other. Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel can substitute for each other due to their similar medium flavors. Their similar firm textures allow both fish to be cooked using the same cooking methods. Both can be cooked by grilling, searing, frying, baking or broiling.  Spanish mackerel substitutes include the following:
  • Tuna
  • Catfish
  • Bass
  • Northern pike
  • Salmon
  • Bullhead
Cero mackerel substitutes include the following:
  • Tuna
  • Bass
  • Catfish
  • Northern pike
  • Bullhead
  • Salmon
When substituting either one always stick to the following:
  • Stick with similar cut fillets.
  • Same size and weight.
  • Stick with skinless or skin when the recipe calls for one.
  • Texture is more important for certain cooking methods. Like using a firmer texture when grilling 3.

How To Cook Spanish Mackerel

Popular ways to cook include:
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Grilling
  • Frying
  • Searing
Flavor pairings:
  • Cajun
  • Paprika
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon
  • White wine
Find out what mackerel taste people preferred, Atlantic or Spanish, in my article.

How To Cook Cero Mackerel

Popular ways to cook include:
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Grilling
  • Frying
  • Searing
  • Sushi
Flavor pairings:
  • Mustard sauce
  • Chili
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • Lime
  • Cajun
  • Smoked paprika

Cost

The prices for seafood will vary depending on how they are caught and where they’re sold. When purchasing any type, be sure to check the label to see if it’s wild caught or farm-raised. Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel fillets and whole fish have a similar price per pound. Whole cero mackerel costs $13.95 per pound. Whole Spanish mackerel costs $13.95 per pound. I conducted a search online for the most popular websites selling seafood online. Some have stores locally. I was unable to locate any cero fillets, only whole fish. The following are the stores I checked and the prices for each one. I checked the Fulton fish market online for prices:
  • Wild Spanish mackerel fillet
    • $22.40 per pound
  • Wild whole Spanish mackerel
    • $15.59 per pound
I checked Eaton Street Seafood Market online:
  • Whole Cero Mackerel
    • $13.95 per pound
  • Whole Spanish Mackerel
    • $13.95 per pound
I also checked Citarella online for prices:
  • Whole Spanish mackerel
    • $13.19 per pound
  • Spanish Mackerel fillet
    • $20.56 per pound
I checked Fresh Direct online and found the following prices:
  • Wild Spanish fillet
    • $16.99 per pound

Mercury Levels

The EPA and The Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 4. This is especially important for the following:
  • Pregnant women
  • Developing children
  • Young infants
They established a list of the following:
  • Best fish
  • Good choices
  • Fish to avoid
Therefore, let’s find out which one has more mercury. Spanish mackerel and cero mackerel have similar levels of mercury. Both are listed on the FDA’s good choices of fish regarding mercury levels.  If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits. Mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations 5. I also compared Atlantic Mackerel and Pacific Chub Mackerel in a recent article. Find out which one tasted better in my reader poll, Atlantic Mackerel vs Pacific Chub Mackerel: The Differences.

Nutrition

They both contain a wide variety of nutrients beneficial for your health. Most notable are the healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals. The following nutrients can be found in both mackerel:
  • High protein source
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • B Vitamins
    • Niacin
    • Riboflavin
    • Thiamin
    • Folate
    • B5
    • B6
    • B12
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
Below is a list of nutrients provided per four ounces:
Nutrient Spanish mackerel, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 158
Fat 7.1 g
Saturated Fat 2.1 g
Cholesterol 86 mg
Protein 22 g
Omega-3 1.64 g
B-6 0.4 mg
B-12 2.7 mcg
Thiamin 0.14 mg
Riboflavin 0.19 mg
B5 0.8 mg
Iron 0.5 mg
Niacin 2.6 mg
Folate 1.1 mcg
Potassium 505 mg
Magnesium 37 mg
Phosphorus 232 mg
Calcium 12.4 mg
Zinc 0.5 mg
Selenium 41.3 mcg
Nutrient Resources 6 The nutrients listed above provide many health benefits, especially for the heart and blood vessels. Keep reading the next section explaining how each nutrient, especially omega-3s, benefit the body and cardiovascular system.

Health Benefits

Editor’s Note: The information on Foods For Anti Aging is meant to be informative in nature and not meant to be taken as medical advice. The articles and opinions on this website are not intended to be used as as a treatment, prevention or diagnosis of health problems. Before modifying or starting any new nutritional, food, fitness, exercise or/and supplement routine, always check with your doctor first.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Mackerel provides one of the highest percentages of omega-3 fatty acids in the seafood world. The fatty acids provided help keep arteries healthy and are considered heart healthy. The omega-3s may help with the following:
  • Help regulate heart rhythms.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Lowering triglycerides.
  • Reduce plaque buildup.
  • Keeping bad cholesterol low.
  • Keeping good cholesterol high.
DHA and EPA, two of the fatty acids, are associated with lowering blood pressure and improving the health of blood vessels 7. Studies suggest omega-3s boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, they’ve been shown to help reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Potassium

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium which helps reduce fluid build-up. The result keeps systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 8. According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 9. The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 10.

Calcium

Calcium is important for blood pressure and the heart. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure because it helps to control the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 11. Calcium also helps the following:
  • Helps muscles function properly.
  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Improve nerve function.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided include the following:
  1. B1 (thiamin)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)
  7. B12
B vitamins help support the following:
  • Brain function.
  • Nerve function.
  • Energy levels.
  • Digestion.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Cardiovascular disease.

Magnesium

Magnesium has been shown to help improve sleep related problems like insomnia 12. It’s able to accomplish this because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels. Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure 13. Magnesium helps control muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure. In the muscles and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Selenium

Selenium is a nutrient which doesn’t receive much press. I’m unsure why many people don’t write about it more. Many studies 14 show selenium may help to protect the following:
  • Cognitive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system
Another Mackerel vs Mackerel article I recently published, Chub Mackerel vs Jack Mackerel: What’s The Difference?

Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!

Walleye vs Cod – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare Them Bass vs Catfish – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare Rock Bass vs Bluegill – What’s The Difference? We Compare Cod vs Salmon: Is One Better? White Bass vs Striped Bass: The Key DifferencesArticle Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. NOAA Fisheries: Spanish Mackerel[]
  2. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Cero Mackerel[]
  3. Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions[]
  4. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  6. USDA: Fish, mackerel, Spanish, raw[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  8. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  9. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  11. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  12. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  14. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]

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