Effects of variable mean target strength on estimates of abundance: The case of Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus)

Ben Scoulding*, Sven Gastauer, David N. MacLennan, Sascha M. M. Fässler, Phillip Copland, Paul G. Fernandes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Atlantic mackerel Scomber scombrus is a small pelagic, migratory fish which supports commercial fisheries. These fish school and are detectable using echosounders, yet fishery-independent estimates of their abundance in the North East Atlantic do not consider acoustic data. Accurate estimates of mean target strength (TS) are presently limiting echo-integration surveys from providing useful estimates of Atlantic mackerel abundance and distribution. This study provides TS estimates for in situ mackerel from multi-frequency split-beam echosounder measurements. TS equals-52.79 dB at 18 kHz,-59.60 dB at 38 kHz,-55.63 dB at 120 kHz, and-53.58 dB at 200 kHz, for a mean mackerel total length=33.3 cm. These values differ from those currently assumed for this species in analyses of acoustic survey data. We investigate the sensitivity of acoustically estimated mackerel biomass around the Shetland Islands, Scotland, in 2014, to various estimates of TS. Confidence limits were obtained using geostatistics accounting for coverage and spatial autocorrelation. Stock biomasses, estimated from 38 and 200 kHz data, differed by 10.5%, and stock distributions were similar to each other and to the estimates from an independent stock assessment. Because mackerel backscatter at 38 kHz is dominated by echoes from the flesh and may have similarities to echoes from fish with swimbladders, and backscatter at 200 kHz is dominated by relatively stable echoes from the backbone, we recommend using 200 kHz data for estimates of Atlantic mackerel biomass.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)822-831
Number of pages10
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Atlantic mackerel
  • biomass estimation
  • geostatistics
  • scattering properties
  • target strength

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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