May 2 is World Tuna Day—named by the United Nations to highlight the global importance of sustainably managed fish stocks. But at NOAA Fisheries, protecting tuna populations from overfishing while supporting these economically important fisheries
About the Species
U.S. wild-caught Atlantic yellowfin tuna is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Near target population level and fishing rate promotes population growth.
At recommended level.
Fishing gears used to harvest yellowfin tuna have almost no impact on habitat because they’re used in the water column and don’t come into contact with the ocean floor.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- According to the 2016 stock assessment, Atlantic yellowfin tuna are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.
- The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) assesses the abundance of Atlantic yellowfin tuna and evaluates the sustainability of current and proposed harvest practices. They use the scientific information from these assessments to make management recommendations.
- Scientists estimate the stock is approximately 5 percent below the target level. The stock is considered overfished based on the ICCAT definition because ICCAT does not set different levels for the target population level and the overfished level. This means that stocks that are not at the target population level are also regarded as overfished by ICCAT. NOAA Fisheries sets the overfished level at 50 percent of the population level, so according to their definition, the stock is not overfished.
- Yellowfin tuna are torpedo-shaped.
- They are metallic dark blue on the back and upper sides, and change from yellow to silver on the belly.
- True to their name, their dorsal and anal fins and finlets are bright yellow.
- Yellowfin tuna can be distinguished from other tunas by their long, bright yellow dorsal fin and a yellow strip down the side. They are also more slender than bluefin tuna.
- Yellowfin tuna grow fairly fast, up to 400 pounds, and have a somewhat short life span of about 7 years.
- Most yellowfin tuna are able to reproduce when they reach age 2 or 3.
- In the western Atlantic, they spawn from May to August in the Gulf of Mexico and from July to November in the southeastern Caribbean. In the eastern Atlantic, they spawn from October to March in the Gulf of Guinea and from April to June off Senegal.
- Females spawn about once every 3 days during the spawning season. They produce an average of 1 million to 4 million eggs each time they spawn.
- Yellowfin tuna feed near the top of the food chain on fish, squid, and crustaceans.
- They are prey for top predators such as sharks and large fish.
Where They Live
- Yellowfin tuna are found near the surface of tropical and subtropical oceans around the world.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division manage the Atlantic yellowfin tuna fishery in the United States.
- Managed under the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan and amendments:
- Commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest yellowfin tuna.
- Gear restrictions.
- Time/area closures.
- Minimum size limit.
- Federal management for Atlantic tunas applies to state waters as well, except in Maine, Connecticut, and Mississippi. NOAA Fisheries periodically reviews these states’ regulations to make sure they’re consistent with federal regulations.
- Highly migratory species, such as yellowfin tuna, have complicated management that requires international cooperation.
- The United States participates in regional fisheries management organizations, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), to enhance tuna management worldwide. NOAA Fisheries sets regulations for the U.S. western Atlantic yellowfin tuna fishery based on our science as well as conservation and management measures adopted by ICCAT.
- In 2011, ICCAT adopted new yellowfin tuna management standards that reduced the catch of small yellowfin off West Africa and brought other fishing nations closer to U.S. standards.
- In 2013, ICCAT adopted a measure to expand reporting requirements for tropical tuna fisheries using fish aggregating devices (FADs). The measure will improve data collection and allow ICCAT scientists to better characterize the fishing effort associated with FAD fishing.
- In 2000, the United States established the Dolphin-Safe Tuna Tracking and Verification Program to monitor the domestic production and importation of all frozen and processed tuna products nationwide and to authenticate any associated dolphin-safe claim.