Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Horse Mackerel

In the names of fish species, we can see that the Dutch had a major role in the 16th and 17th centuries. Photo: ©kisspng

Schooling behavior

If you look under the umbrellas of swimming jellyfish at this time of year, you have a good chance of seeing some small fish hiding between the tentacles. These fish are young horse mackerel protecting themselves from being eaten by other fish, even older and larger horse mackerels. If the jellyfish are stranded on a beach, the small fish are also stranded, preferring this fate than to swim free at the risk of being eaten. When horse mackerels grow larger and no longer fit under a jellyfish, they will find other fish species (mackerel or whiting) with which to form a big school in order to stay safe. This schooling behavior is necessary for them, as they are a welcome prey for many larger fish and sea mammals.

What's in a name

The common name, horse mackerel, comes from the old Dutch word Horsmakreel. This means a mackerel that spawns on a ‘hors’, which is a shallow area in the sea or a bank. The English took the name and called the fish horse mackerel. Even in Norway they are called heste makrel (heste is horse in norwegian). In the last 20 years a new name has arrived on the Dutch fish market: the paardenmakreel. This is still the same species but now translated back from the English word ‘horse’ which is ‘paard’ in Dutch. A similar phenomenon has occurred in the Portuguese language.

Another old Dutch name for the horse mackerel is ‘Maasbanker’. This also means ‘spawning at a shallow area in the North Sea’, but in combination with the river Maas. These are the banks in the North Sea in front of Flanders and Zeeland. This name then became ‘Maasbangu’ in the Caribbean area, but remained ‘Maasbanker’ in Africa, especially in South Africa and Asia. Hence even in the names of fish species, we can see that the Dutch had a major role in the 16th and 17th centuries, both in the trading and catching of fish.