Highly Migratory Species

Highly migratory fish travel long distances and often cross domestic and international boundaries. These pelagic species live in the water of the open ocean, although they may spend part of their life cycle in nearshore waters. Highly migratory species managed by NOAA Fisheries include tunas, some sharks, swordfish, billfish, and other highly sought-after fish such as Pacific mahi mahi.

These highly migratory species are targeted by U.S. commercial and recreational fishermen and by foreign fishing fleets. Because they migrate long distances and live primarily in the open ocean, only a small fraction of the total harvest of these species is taken within U.S. waters.

In the United States, NOAA Fisheries sustainably manages highly migratory species under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans:

Responsible management also requires international cooperation through a number of agreements and regional fishery management organizations (or RFMOs) including the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, Commission on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Species News

Friends holding dolphinfish at the dock. Friends enjoying a recreational fishing trip where they caught two bull and one cow dolphinfish (Atlantic mahi mahi). Photo courtesy of Ellie Hartman
A striped marlin with a school of smaller fish The striped marlin is a species of billfish that lives in the North Pacific. A new study co-led by NOAA scientists finds that marine predators, like the striped marlin, aggregate in anticyclonic, clockwise-rotating ocean eddies to feed. Credit: Pat Ford Photography.


NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004. NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004. Homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette is a multipurpose oceanographic research vessel that conducts fisheries assessments, physical and chemical oceanography research, marine mammal and marine debris surveys. The ship operates throughout the central and western Pacific Ocean. Credit: NOAA/Ray Boland.
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada during 2010 Pacific Hake Inter-Vessel Calibration off Eureka, CA NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada during 2010 Pacific Hake Inter-Vessel Calibration off Eureka, California. Credit: NOAA


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International Collaboration

Fish and other marine animals travel beyond national boundaries.