What else can you say about the arrival of a famed fish? Known for its brilliant and beautiful coloration, mackerel are also admired for their historic abundance and one-time ease of harvesting.

Former Vineyard Gazette columnist Joseph Chase Allen wrote a weekly “longshore log” called With The Fishermen, and published a compendium book of his writings called The Wheelhouse Loafer. In his column, which was published from 1940 through 1960, he had this to say about catching this fish: “Anybody under the sun with a grain of common sense can catch mackerel! All in the world you have to do is get a line and a jig, go out off the point or on the edge of the rip and drag it around.”

Not only was this fish easy to acquire, it was also plentiful back in the day. A New York Times article published in 1893 reported that “An immense school of mackerel has ‘struck’ into Vineyard Sound and since Monday the hook-in-line fishermen of the vicinity have shipped nearly $3,000 worth of No. 1 mackerel to New York Market, at an average price of 12 cents per fish.” Lucrative too.

And the Cape and Islands were at the center of this harvest, with more than 300 local boats targeting mackerel in the mid 1850s. The Cape was first not only regionally, but nationally in the mackerel fishery, and an estimated 13.2 million gallons of this fish (in 330,000 barrels) were harvested. It could be argued that it was mackerel, not whales or cod, that fed the growth and prosperity of the area.

Today mackerel are not as ubiquitous as they once were. Their numbers have declined and, as temperature-sensitive fish, their range has also changed.  Scientists report this highly migratory fish has shifted its population more north and east with the warming climate, as they seek cooler waters.

And, yet, mackerel are still here and still are fished commercially and recreationally for food and for fun. Last week, these migratory fish came into our harbors on their seasonal jaunt. 

Fisher Danguole Budris caught some off of Memorial Wharf, and when I asked her how she would use them, she shared that they serve as dinner, bait and are great gifts for friends. A harvester that shares her catch is the best kind.

Recommendations for consuming these little delicacies include eating them fresh (think sashimi), smoked, salted, sautéed or grilled. Low in mercury, you can consume them often as a healthy and safe meal.

Mackerel are schooling fish that need to move. If they stop swimming, they will perish, since they need that movement for oxygen and, as they lack a swim bladder, cannot regulate their buoyancy and would sink and die if they cease swimming.

Though small, reaching only 16 inches, mackerel are powerful procreators. One female fish can produce up to two million eggs that are released in batches, five to seven times per season. Their fry is planktonic, floating until it is big enough to swim on its own.

It is not their power, their history or their taste that makes mackerel holy. The expression reportedly originated to avoid being disrespectful to the church, likely being a substitute for the more blasphemous Holy Mary or Holy Mother of God. Mackerel also has its place in Catholic tradition as a food source for Fridays, when meat is not consumed.

Whether consecrated by tradition or consecrated in the local waters, this species has, and has had for a long time, much to offer us even if there are bigger fish to fry.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.