West Coast Highly Migratory Species
Highly migratory species include Pacific tunas, swordfish, sharks, and billfish. NOAA Fisheries develops, implements, and evaluates fisheries policies and regulations to sustainably manage domestic and international fisheries for these species on the West Coast.
NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region's Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Program develops, implements, and evaluates fisheries policies and regulations to manage sustainable fisheries for eastern Pacific Ocean species such as Pacific tunas, swordfish, sharks, and billfish. Highly migratory species are found throughout the Pacific Ocean and migrate across jurisdictional boundaries. Because of this, our HMS Program engages stakeholders and governmental groups to manage these species domestically and internationally.
The Fisheries Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species was developed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in response to the need to coordinate state, Federal, and international management. NOAA Fisheries, on behalf of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, partially approved the Management Plan on February 4, 2004. The majority of implementing regulations became effective on April 7, 2004. The reporting and record keeping provisions became effective February 10, 2005.
Currently, the Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan covers 11 stocks considered in the fishery (management unit species) and 8 non-target stocks (ecosystem component species). Even though ecosystem component species are not considered "in the fishery", the Council is expected to consider measures to mitigate and minimize bycatch of these species, to the extent practicable, consistent with National Standard Nine of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The Council tracks ecosystem component species over time, periodically evaluates their status, and assesses whether any management is needed under the fisheries management plan, in which case, the ecosystem component species could be reclassified as a management unit species.
Since its implementation, the Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan has been amended several times:
- Amendment 1, approved by NOAA Fisheries on June 7, 2007, incorporates recommended international measures to end overfishing of bigeye tuna in the Pacific.
- Amendment 2, approved by NOAA Fisheries on June 27, 2011, added 8 ecosystem component species, and made the plan consistent with revised National Standard One Guidelines. The list was created by including the monitored species in the plan and by reclassifying two management unit species.
- Amendment 3, approved by NOAA Fisheries on March 10, 2016, prohibited the future development of fisheries for a suite of lower trophic level species.
- Amendment 4, approved by NOAA Fisheries on April 24, 2018, brought descriptions of the management context for highly migratory species up-to-date and better described the Council’s role in making stock status determinations, including evaluations of the best scientific information available. Amendment 4 also adjusted the timing of the Council’s biennial management cycle for highly migratory species.
- Amendment 5, approved by NOAA Fisheries on December 14, 2017, established a federal limited entry permit system for the U.S. West Coast large-mesh drift gillnet fishery.
Management Measures/Actions under the Magnuson-Stevens Act
Regulations under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species apply to U.S. fishing vessels targeting or pursuing highly migratory species within the West Coast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of California, Oregon, and Washington or the adjacent high seas (seaward of the EEZ) and land their fish in California, Oregon, or Washington. Additional restrictions apply under the High Seas Fishing Compliance Act and for Hawaii longline permitted vessels landing into West Coast ports. The fishery management plan does not apply to U.S. vessels that fish for highly migratory species on the high seas and land into a non-U.S. port.
Fishery rules frequently change, so fishermen must familiarize themselves with the latest regulations and are responsible for complying with the current official regulations set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations at 50 CFR part 660. Fishermen should also check with state authorities before engaging in fishing activities within state waters.
Federal Register Rules and Notices for actions under the Magnuson-Stevens Act:
Highly migratory species move throughout large areas of the Pacific and are fished by many nations and gear types. Therefore, fisheries management by the United States alone is not enough to ensure that harvests are sustainable in the long term.
The United States participates in several international organizations in its management of highly migratory species. These include the United States-Canada Albacore Treaty, the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program, and tuna-Regional Fishery Management Organizations. United States participation in these forums and agreements supports international cooperation for the conservation and management of highly migratory species on the high seas.
NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Highly Migratory Species program provides policy advice and technical and administrative support for international fisheries agreements and related issues in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
United States participation in Regional Fishery Management Organizations
Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) are established by treaties with countries that have fishing interests in particular ocean regions. These organizations adopt living marine resource conservation and management measures that are binding for their members. Regarding HMS in the Pacific, the United States is a member of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), which is responsible for the conservation and management of fisheries for tunas and other species taken by tuna-fishing vessels in the eastern Pacific Ocean (generally east of the 150° W meridian). The United States is also a Member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which plays a parallel role in the western and central Pacific Ocean (generally west of the 150° W meridian).
To ensure that harvests of highly migratory species are sustainable Pacific-wide, the United States is dependent on other Member and Cooperating Non-Member nations of these tuna Commissions to adhere to their obligations to implement Commission decisions.
The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
The IATTC was established under the 1949 Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, to manage tuna and tuna-like species including yellowfin, skipjack, Pacific bluefin, and North Pacific albacore tunas in the IATTC Convention Area. In 2003, the Antigua Convention was adopted to strengthen and replace the 1949 Convention and became effective in 2010.
The IATTC assesses the status of tuna, billfish, and shark stocks in the eastern Pacific Ocean to determine appropriate catch limits and other measures to prevent overexploitation of these stocks. Summaries of stock assessments are provided in Fishery Status Reports. The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) also conducts stock assessments for some species managed by the IATTC, including Pacific bluefin tuna and North Pacific albacore.
Members participating in the IATTC:
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- European Union
- Chinese Taipei
- United States
Cooperating Non-Members of the IATTC:
NOAA Fisheries involvement in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
The West Coast Region’s Highly Migratory Species program staffs the United States Delegation to the IATTC. The Delegation includes general advisory committee members, scientific advisory subcommittee members, and four presidentially appointed U.S. Commissioners. It advises the Department of State representative, who assists in negotiating international agreements. NOAA Fisheries implements the legally binding resolutions that the IATTC adopts by drafting regulations for U.S. fisheries operating in the IATTC Convention Area under the Tuna Conventions Act. The West Coast Region’s Highly Migratory Species program also regularly engages with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Pacific Islands Regional Office to coordinate IATTC data reporting requirements for the U.S. fleet fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Management Measures/Actions under the Tuna Conventions Act
The United States is obligated to implement decisions of the IATTC and WCPFC under the Tuna Conventions Act and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention Implementation Act.
Regulations implemented under the Tuna Conventions Act, in accordance with resolutions of the IATTC, apply to U.S. fishing vessels targeting or pursuing highly migratory species within the IATTC Convention Area. The recent rules and regulations are available on the link below; however, the current and official list of international fisheries regulations are set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations at 50 CFR part 300.
Regulations implemented under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention Implementation, in accordance with WCPFC Resolutions, apply to U.S. fishing vessels targeting or pursuing highly migratory species within the WCPFC Convention Area.
Federal Register Rules and Notices for actions under the Tuna Conventions Act:
To stay informed on issues relating to the IATTC, join our email distribution list. Information shared may include changes to regulations (e.g., notice of proposed rules implementing IATTC resolutions available for public comment), upcoming meetings (e.g., annual IATTC meetings), and updates to highly migratory species management measures adopted by the IATTC. To receive (or unsubscribe to) these emails, please send a request that includes your first name, last name, and affiliation to: William.Stahnke@noaa.gov.
These documents serve as Small Entity Compliance Guides, complying with section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.
- International Maritime Organization (IMO) Number Requirements (January 2023) (pdf)
- Regulations for Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (August 24, 2023) (pdf)
- Fishing Restrictions for Tropical Tuna and Fish Aggregating Device (FAD) in the Eastern Pacific Ocean for 2022 and Beyond (November 2022) (pdf)
- IATTC Regional Vessel Register (June 2017) (pdf)
- Regulations for Vessel Monitoring System Requirements for U.S. Commercial Fishing Vessels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (April 2016)(pdf)
- Regulations for Fish Aggregating Devices and Silky Sharks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (November 2017) (pdf)
- IATTC Resolutions & Recommendations
- Antigua Convention
- Tuna Conventions Act
- Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP)
- U.S. Dolphin-safe Tuna Tracking and Verification Program (TTVP)
- U.S. - Canada Albacore Treaty
- Pacific Bluefin Tuna Harvest Status
- High Seas Fishing
- Landings & Revenue
- Fisheries & Gear
- Observer Summaries
- Emergency Contacts for Vessel Owners, Operators, and Observers
- Pacific Bluefin Tuna ESA Status Review
- Supplemental Gears for Swordfish
- Exempted Fishing Permits for West Coast Highly Migratory Species
- HMS Research at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center
- Voices from the Fisheries: the Pioneers of San Pedro & Terminal Island, Ca. Tuna Industry
- Pacific Fishery Management Council
- IATTC Meetings
- IATTC Regional Vessel Register
- IATTC Fishery Status Reports
- Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)
- International Scientific Commission for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC)