About the Species
U.S. wild-caught North Atlantic albacore tuna is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population level.
At recommended level.
Fishing gear used to harvest North Atlantic albacore tuna has no impact on habitat because it does not contact the ocean floor.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
- According to the 2016 stock assessment, North Atlantic albacore tuna are not overfished, have rebuilt to target population levels, and are not subject to overfishing. Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) assesses the abundance of North Atlantic albacore tuna and evaluates the sustainability of current and proposed harvest practices. They use the scientific information from these assessments to make management recommendations.
- An international rebuilding plan was put in place in 2010. The stock was declared rebuilt in 2016, and since then has been managed under a conservation and management program.
- In 2017, ICCAT adopted an interim Harvest Control Rule (HCR) for North Atlantic albacore for 2018-2020, consistent with scientific advice, with the goal of adopting a long-term HCR following further Management Strategy Evaluation testing over the next few years.
- Albacore tuna are metallic, dark blue on the back with dusky to silvery white coloration along the sides of the belly.
- They have exceptionally long pectoral fins, which are nearly half the length of their bodies.
- The edge of the tail fin is white.
- Albacore grow relatively fast, up to more than 4 feet and 88 pounds.
- In the Atlantic, they live up to 13 years and are able to reproduce by age 5.
- In the spring and summer, albacore spawn in subtropical waters of the Atlantic and throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Depending on their size, females have between 2 million and 3 million eggs per spawning season.
- Similarly sized albacore travel together in schools that can be up to 19 miles wide. Schools of albacore also sometimes include other tuna species such as skipjack, yellowfin, and bluefin.
- Albacore constantly swim with their mouths open in order to breathe because they lack the structures needed to pump oxygen-rich water over their gills.
- They have unique biological characteristics that enable them to swim at speeds over 50 miles per hour and cover vast areas during annual migrations:
- Torpedo-shaped bodies, smooth skin, and streamlined fins.
- Highly evolved circulatory system that regulates body temperature and increases muscle efficiency.
- High metabolism.
- High blood pressure, volume, and hemoglobin, all of which increase oxygen absorption.
- Albacore tuna feed near the top of the food chain, preying upon a variety of fish, crustaceans, and squid.
- They are prey for many top predators, including sharks, rays, larger tunas, and billfishes.
Where They Live
- Albacore tuna live in tropical and warm temperate waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In the Atlantic, they’re found from Nova Scotia to northern Argentina, and from Ireland to South Africa.
- NOAA Fisheries, through the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division, manage the North Atlantic albacore tuna fishery in the United States.
- Managed under the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan and amendments:
- Commercial and recreational fishermen must have a permit to harvest North Atlantic albacore tuna.
- Annual quota monitored.
- Gear restrictions defined.
- Time/area closures established
- 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 North Atlantic albacore 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. North Atlantic albacore tuna fishery based on our science and conservation and management measures adopted by ICCAT.
- 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.
- Commercial fishery:
- U.S. fishermen catch less than 1 percent of the total international catch of North Atlantic albacore.
- In 2019, U.S. commercial landings of North Atlantic albacore totaled 392,600 pounds and were valued at $563,600, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. These figures may not match other agency sources of data due to confidential information.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- Albacore in the North Atlantic are most often harvested incidentally in the commercial pelagic longline fishery for swordfish and other tunas. U.S. commercial fishermen also use rod-and-reel gear to catch albacore tuna.
- Fishing gear used to catch albacore has no impact on habitat because it’s used in the water column and doesn’t come into contact with the ocean floor.
- Rod-and-reel gear is very selective and bycatch is minimal. U.S. commercial fishermen fishing with pelagic longline gear follow a number of strict regulations to prevent incidentally catching marine mammals, sea turtles, and birds.
- NOAA Fisheries has taken the following additional measures to prevent bycatch and sustainably manage this fishery. Fishermen are:
- Required to use large circle hooks and certain types of bait that limit gear interactions with sea turtles. Circle hooks are specifically designed to minimize the damage caused by hooking, giving animals that are captured and released a better chance at survival.
- Trained to use special techniques to safely dehook and release any incidentally caught turtles.
- Required to stop fishing and move 1 nautical mile if they encounter a protected species.
- Required to protect pilot whales and Risso's dolphins when fishing in the Mid-Atlantic Bight by limiting the length of their lines to 20 nautical miles and posting marine mammal handling/release guidelines on their vessels. In addition, if fishing in the Cape Hatteras Special Research Area, pelagic longliners must contact NOAA Fisheries at least 48 hours prior to a trip and carry observers if requested.
- Required to use weak hooks from January through June in the Gulf of Mexico to reduce incidental catch of bluefin tuna and prohibited from using live bait to reduce bycatch of billfish.
- Restricted from areas of the Gulf of Mexico to reduce bycatch of all species.
- Required to carry vessel monitoring systems onboard their boats to ensure compliance with these closures.
- Required to carry at-sea fisheries observers upon request. NOAA Fisheries reviews observer data to monitor protected species interactions and takes appropriate action as necessary.
- Recreational fishery:
- Recreational fishing for highly migratory species such as albacore tuna provides significant economic benefits to coastal communities through individual angler expenditures, recreational charters, tournaments, and the shoreside businesses that support those activities. Federal permits are required.