This report focuses on work of SWFSC scientists on highly migratory fish species (HMS) and their…
About the Species
U.S. wild-caught Pacific albacore tuna is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population levels.
At recommended levels.
Fishing gear used to catch albacore rarely contacts the seafloor so habitat impacts are minimal.
Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.
There are two stocks of Pacific albacore tuna: the North Pacific stock and the South Pacific stock. According to the most recent stock assessments:
The North Pacific stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2020 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
The South Pacific stock is not overfished and not subject to overfishing (2015 stock assessment). Summary stock assessment information can be found on Stock SMART.
- Albacore tuna have torpedo-shaped bodies, smooth skin, and streamlined fins.
- They 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 at least half the length of their bodies.
- The edge of the tail fin is white.
- Albacore tuna grow fast at first but more slowly with age, up to almost 80 pounds and about 47 inches long.
- Similarly sized albacore travel together in schools that can be up to 19 miles wide.
- North Pacific albacore, particularly juveniles (2 to 4 years old), typically begin their expansive migration in the spring and early summer in waters off Japan. They move into inshore waters off the U.S. Pacific coast by late summer, then spend late fall and winter in the western Pacific Ocean. The timing and distance of their migrations in a given year depend on oceanic conditions.
- Less is known about the movements of albacore in the South Pacific Ocean – juveniles move southward from the tropics when they are about a foot long, and then eastward to about 130˚ West. When the fish are mature, they return to tropical and subtropical waters to spawn.
- They’re able to reproduce when they reach 5 to 6 years old, and they live for 10 to 12 years.
- North Pacific albacore spawn between March and July in tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific. Females broadcast their eggs near the surface, where they’re fertilized. Depending on their size, females release between 800,000 and 2.6 million eggs every time they spawn.
- Albacore can swim at speeds exceeding 50 miles per hour and cover vast areas during annual migrations.
- They have a highly evolved circulatory system that regulates their body temperature and increases muscle efficiency; a high metabolism; and high blood pressure, volume, and hemoglobin, all of which increase oxygen absorption.
- They lack the structures needed to pump oxygen-rich water over their gills so, in order to breathe, they must constantly swim with their mouths open.
- Albacore are top carnivores, preying on schooling stocks such as sardine, anchovy, and squid. They eat an enormous amount of food to fuel their high metabolism, sometimes consuming as much as 25 percent of their own weight every day.
- Larger species of billfish, tuna, and sharks eat albacore.
Where They Live
- Albacore tuna are found in tropical and warm temperate waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific albacore tuna fishery on the West Coast.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species:
- Requires commercial fishermen to obtain a permit from NOAA Fisheries and maintain logbooks documenting their catch.
- Restricts the use of longline gear in specific areas and times of the year, to minimize impacts on protected resources, including sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds.
- NOAA Fisheries and Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage this fishery in the Pacific Islands.
- Managed under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific:
- Fishermen are required to have permits and to record their catch in logbooks.
- Gear restrictions, monitoring, and operational requirements to minimize bycatch.
- A limit on the number of permits for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries controls participation in the fishery.
- Longline fishing prohibited in areas around the Main Hawaiian Islands, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, and reduce potential gear conflicts and localized stock depletion (when a large quantity of fish are removed from an area).
- These areas are enforced through NOAA Fisheries’ vessel monitoring system program. Longline boats must be equipped with a satellite transponder that provides real-time position updates and tracks vessel movements.
- Hawaii-based and American Samoa–based longline vessels must carry onboard observers when requested by NOAA Fisheries, in part to record any interactions with sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
- Mandatory annual protected species workshops for all longline vessel owners and operators.
- Management of highly migratory species, like Pacific albacore tuna, is complicated because the species migrate thousands of miles across international boundaries and are fished by many nations.
- Effective conservation and management of this resource requires international cooperation as well as strong domestic management.
- Two international organizations, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), manage this fishery.
- These Commissions rely on the scientific advice of their staff and the analyses of the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific (ISC) to develop and adopt international resolutions for conservation and management measures.
- Working with the U.S. Department of State, NOAA Fisheries domestically implements these conservation and management measures.
- 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.
In 2020, commercial landings of Pacific albacore tuna totaled approximately 16 million pounds and were valued at more than $25 million, according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database. The majority of Pacific albacore tuna is landed in Washington and Oregon. Hawaii albacore is mostly sold fresh.
- There are also significant landings in American Samoa, averaging approximately 3 million pounds per year, most of which is canned locally.
- Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
- On the U.S. West Coast, commercial fishermen target the North Pacific stock primarily using troll and pole-and-line (bait boat) gear.
- In Hawaii, longline vessels harvest North Pacific albacore while targeting swordfish and other tunas.
- In American Samoa, longline vessels target the South Pacific stock.
- Bycatch in U.S. albacore fisheries is low. Based on limited observer data, troll and pole-and-line (bait boat) gears have insignificant levels of bycatch.
- Interactions with sea turtles can occur in longline fisheries, but extensive observer coverage in U.S. fisheries indicates these interactions are rare. U.S. longline fishermen are required to use specific tools and handling techniques to reduce the effects of bycatch.
- Several other management measures are in place, such as gear modifications and time-area closures, to limit and prevent interactions between longline gear and other species.
- Recreational fishery:
- North Pacific albacore are a popular and important recreational species.
- Off the West Coast, commercial passenger fishing vessels are required to keep logbooks to document their catch.
- There are bag limits in U.S. federal and state waters.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
Data & Maps
Logbook summary reports for the 2019 calendar year.
Logbook summary reports for the 2019 calendar year.
Logbook summary reports for the 2018 calendar year.