Skip to main content
Stories from Norway

Mackerel - Wonderfully oily

Healthy, juicy and full of essential fatty acids – Norwegian autumn mackerel is the ultimate fast food. 

Mackerel - Wonderfully oily

Healthy, juicy mackerel

“Norwegian mackerel is oily and tastes delicious. It is not very bony, so it is very easy to eat. It is used in all kinds of dishes for dinner, lunch and breakfast, so our customers often eat it,” says Kosuke Yasuda, an experienced fishmonger at one of Ito Yokado's supermarkets in Tokyo.

Yasuda has just spent a quiet part of the day filling up one of the supermarket’s many fish counters. There are packages of shiny Norwegian ‘saba’ in the well-stocked refrigerated counter behind him, ready to be snapped up by hungry Tokyo residents. Signs above the shelves clearly show the country of origin of the fish. Yasuda’s quality-conscious customers prefer healthy, juicy mackerel from the cold, clean waters off Norway’s coastline.

"80 percent of the mackerel we sell is Norwegian. It’s very popular."
Kosuke Yasuda
Fishmonger, Ito Yokado

Sustainable and modern

When the nights start drawing in and the leaves start falling from the trees, Norway’s mackerel fishermen begin preparing for a new season. Modern fishing boats set out from Norwegian coastal towns, heading for the cold, open seas. Norwegian autumn mackerel fishing is both careful and gentle.

The fish are caught in fine-meshed fishing nets that encircle large shoals of mackerel and then close in around the fish. This avoids the fish being left in the net for too long. The mackerel are then immediately sucked into large tanks on board the modern Norwegian fishing boats – avoiding unnecessary stress and handling by human hands. These careful fishing methods ensure that the unique qualities of the fish are preserved throughout the process from catching to packing.

Top quality

It is no coincidence that fishing for large shoals of mackerel starts late in the year. The world's best mackerel are only caught in the autumn. After a long summer of feeding off the Norwegian coast, the mackerel are at their fattest. It is important for the fish to be caught in the autumn because the fat contains both the flavour and the health benefits. It is scientifically proven that Norwegian mackerel are among the best and fattest mackerel in the world.

A study carried out by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research looked at variations in levels of fat in mackerel from March to November. The researchers found that the fat levels in the fish vary greatly throughout the year: After the winter, the fish is at its slimmest, but during the summer it eats slowly, but surely, gaining weight. While a mackerel caught in April has less than five percent fat, a mackerel caught in October has as much as 28 percent fat – over five times as much! The study also showed that autumn mackerel from Norway actually have a higher fat percentage than mackerel caught elsewhere in the world. It is simply exceptional.

"The Japanese think this is very high quality and like it very much. That is why a lot of mackerel are exported from Norway to Japan every year."
Ken Abe
Sales manager at Tsujino

Carefully inspected

“This is a Norwegian mackerel weighing in at about 600 grams,” says Ken Abe, sales manager at Tsujino, a Japanese import company. He holds up a fresh and silvery-looking Norwegian autumn mackerel. Wearing blue work clothes and cap, Abe is at Brødrene Sperre in Ålesund, one of Norway’s main exporters of wild-caught fish. He is keeping a close eye on this year’s mackerel catch. Like several other Japanese companies, Tsujino sends its own inspectors to Norway every year to check the quality of the Norwegian autumn mackerel.
Since Japanese companies resell mackerel – for use in everything from ramen to protein bars, ready meals and sushi – it is important to ensure that the fish maintain the same high quality as the year before. During the catch period, Japanese inspectors like Abe stand beside assembly lines along the Norwegian coast and carry out a thorough inspection of the autumn mackerel. With a seasoned glance, Abe selects a fresh mackerel from the shiny assembly line at Brødrene Sperre. He puts the mackerel on a cutting board, picks up sharp knife and cuts the fish into perfect fillets, which he then proceeds to inspect. He does so with considerable care and attention. Abe likes what he sees.

Very healthy fat

The high fat percentage in Norwegian mackerel makes it a very special food. The fat level is important for two reasons. First, the delicate and marbled fat in the fish means that Norwegian mackerel is a food that is juicy and has a wonderful flavour. The high fat percentage also brings a number of health benefits. Norwegian autumn mackerel is a good source of vitamins D and B12. It is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 is a type of unsaturated fatty acid that has a proven positive effect on the immune system. These fatty acids can prevent cardiovascular disease, and can have a positive effect on conditions such as arthritis, migraines and psoriasis. The body cannot produce these fatty acids itself, so getting them from what we eat is absolutely essential. The richest omega-3 deposits are in oily fish. You would have to look long and hard to find a source of omega-3 fats that is tastier and easier to prepare than Norwegian autumn mackerel.

Valuable collaboration

At the premises of Brødrene Sperre, which is on an island just outside the beautiful port of Ålesund in western Norway, the packing of this year's Norwegian autumn mackerel is in full swing. It will soon be shipped to Japan for sale and further processing. Norwegian fishermen can thank dedicated and knowledgeable Japanese experts for being able to offer such a sought-after resource to food-loving Japanese consumers.

“We really appreciate what the Japanese have done for us. Over the last 30 years, they have developed this quality control procedure, which is actually the main reason why Norwegian production is as good as it is,” says Ole Kristoffer Nore, export manager for Asia and Eastern Europe at Brødrene Sperre. Earlier in the day, Nore was a fly on the wall while Ken Abe was carrying out a thorough inspection. He would not do without the Norwegian/Japanese collaboration.

“They have really taught us an incredible amount in the last 30 years in terms of checking quality, finding out if there is anything that we ought to be doing better so that we can be sure that the fish is exceptional and ready for the Japanese market,” says Nore proudly.