Tuna, albacore

Thunnus alalunga

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — Pacific, North West (FAO 61) and Central (FAO 71,77)
Stock area — North Pacific
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Tuna, albacore

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2019 

The North Pacific albacore fishery is assessed by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) and responsibility for management of the stock is shared between the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC). The most recent stock assessment was carried out in 2017, indicating the stock was not overfished nor being subject to overfishing. Catches since 2012 have continuously declined, and provisional 2018 catch is 49,300t, a 24% decrease from the 2013-2017 average and the lowest since 1990. An explanation for this decline is not available at present. Around 26% of catches are taken in the Eastern Pacific and the remainder in the West, and MSY is 132,072t. Juvenile albacore aged 2 to 4 years comprised, on average, 70% of the annual catch between 1993 and 2015, owing to the larger impact of the surface fisheries (primarily troll, pole-and-line) which remove juvenile fish, as opposed to longline fisheries, which primarily remove adult fish. In 2005 IATTC and WCPFC adopted matching management measures for North Pacific Albacore to freeze fishing effort to current levels and instigate regular catch reporting, and recent exploitation levels are estimated to be well within targets. In 2017 an Interim Harvest Strategy was adopted by WCPFC, replacing the 2014 management framework and supporting the measures to limit fishing effort.

About 43% of the catch is taken in pelagic longline fisheries which can be associated with significant bycatch of other billfish (e.g. striped marlin, which is overfished) and vulnerable species such as sharks, turtles, birds. Whilst there are some mitigation measures in place to reduce the impact, monitoring and reporting of interactions is insufficient to evaluate the effectiveness of these measures. There is 5% observer coverage on large longliners, but 20% has been recommended.

Commercial buyers sourcing from the longline fisheries should establish what measures the flag state is taking to improve deficiencies in monitoring and reporting - particularly of interactions with vulnerable species - and specify the need for ongoing and demonstrable improvements. Large buyers should consider supporting such improvements. There are some Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) in this region that are making progress in improving elements of these fisheries. More info about these projects is available from fisheryprogress.org.

Biology

Tuna belong to the family Scombridae. They are large, oceanic fish and are seasonally migratory, some making trans-oceanic journeys. Albacore are found throughout the world’s temperate, sub-tropical and tropical oceans, although they are less common in the tropics. They are found from the surface to a depth of 600m where they often form mixed schools with skipjack, yellowfin and bluefin tuna. They grow more slowly than skipjack and yellowfin tuna, reaching a maximum size of 140cm, 60kg in weight and maximum age of 15 years. Albacore mature when about 90cm length and 4-5 years old. Spawning normally occurs between January and July.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Stock Area

North Pacific

Stock information

The North Pacific albacore fishery is assessed by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) and responsibility for management of the stock is shared between the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC). The most recent assessment was carried out in 2017, with some major improvements compared to the previous one in 2014. Some uncertainty remains and there is a need for Pacific-wide data collection to address this. The assessment indicates that the stock is not overfished relative to the limit reference point adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (i.e. spawning stock biomass is greater than 20% of unfished levels). No F-based reference points have been adopted to evaluate overfishing. Stock status was evaluated against seven potential reference points and current fishing intensity (F2012-2014) is below six of them.

Catches during the period of the assessment (1993-2015) reached a peak of 120,000 t in 1999 and then declined in the early 2000s. Since 2012 (catch of 83,150t) they have continuously declined. Provisional 2018 catch is 49,300t, a 9% decrease from 2017, a 24% decrease from the 2013-2017 average and the lowest since 1990. An explanation for this decline is not available at present. The 2015-2017 average was 62,000t, of which 26% was taken in the Eastern Pacific and the remainder in the West, and MSY is 132,072t. Juvenile albacore aged 2-4 years comprised, on average, 70% of the annual catch between 1993 and 2015, owing to the larger impact of the surface fisheries (primarily troll, pole-and-line) which remove juvenile fish, as opposed to longline fisheries, which primarily remove adult fish.

If recent average catches continue (2010-2014 average = 82,432 t) then the probability of the stock entering an overfished state by 2025 is 30%. A new stock assessment is due in 2020.

Details of northern albacore migration are unclear, but juvenile fish (2- to 5-year-olds) are believed to move into the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) in the spring and early summer, and return to the western and central Pacific, perhaps annually, in the late fall and winter, where they tend to remain as they mature.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Most tuna stocks range across and are accessed by numerous coastal states, making harmonised and effective management of these individual stocks very difficult. As a result, intergovernmental Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have been established. There are five main tuna RFMOs worldwide and it is their responsibility to carry out data collection, scientific monitoring and management of these fisheries. The responsibility for the management of Albacore in the North Pacific is shared between the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC). Whilst these RFMOs are responsible for the development of management and conservation measures, the degree to which they are implemented, monitored and enforced still varies significantly between coastal states. For this reason, it is important to choose tuna that has been caught by vessels that are well regulated by their flag state.

A number of American and Canadian albacore fisheries are certified as sustainable and well managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and represent the best options.

Approximately 73% of the catch occurs in the WCPO and a 27% in the EPO. In 2005 IATTC and WCPFC adopted matching management measures for North Pacific Albacore to freeze fishing effort to 2002-2004 levels and instigate regular catch reporting, and the current exploitation level (2010-2012) is indeed estimated to be below those levels. From 2015-2017 in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), days fished was 53% of the target level, and number of vessels was 77%. In 2017 an Interim Harvest Strategy for North Pacific albacore was adopted by WCPFC, replacing the 2014 management framework and supporting the measures to limit fishing effort. The management objective is to maintain the biomass around its 2017 level in order to allow recent exploitation levels to continue with a low risk of breaching the limit reference point (LRP: 20% of unfished levels, consistent with limits for the three tropical tuna species and South Pacific albacore). If this point is breached, management actions (a rebuilding plan lasting up to 10 years) will be taken to return the stock to a predetermined level. The target reference point (TRP) will be determined following a management strategy evaluation, which began in 2018.

Both the IATTC and WCPFC have the following additional management measures:
5% observer coverage is required on longliners greater than 20m, although this is considered to be too low for accurate data: a minimum of 20% coverage is recommended. In addition, data recorded by IATTC longliners is considered inadequate for scientific purposes and minimum data standards need to be identified and introduced.
To help address IUU: an IUU Vessel List is maintained as well as a register of authorised fishing vessels; transhipments at sea for most vessels are prohibited (some exemptions apply) and most other transhipments must be documented and observed as part of the regional observer programme. Countries are required to report annually on monitoring, control and compliance of management measures. The IATTC and WCPFC endeavour to work together to promote compatibility between their respective conservation and management measures across the Pacific.
In 2017, WCPFC introduced a Compliance Monitoring Scheme to assess and improve compliance with obligations, and penalise non-compliance. In 2018, IATTC introduced a new resolution for North Pacific albacore which aims to improve catch and effort from 2013-2017 by requiring countries to submit reports for these periods, and to continue the reporting annually from then on.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

43% of albacore in the North Pacific is taken in pelagic longline fisheries.

Longlining targets larger, mature fish yet is often associated with the bycatch of vulnerable species such as seabirds, turtles and sharks. To address this, both the IATTC and the WCPFC require a number of mitigation measures.

Seabirds: Feeding opportunities for some seabird species are dependent on the presence of tuna schools feeding near the surface. Some seabirds, especially albatrosses (waved (Phoebastria irrorata), black-footed (P. nigripes), Laysan (P. immutabilis), and black-browed (Thalassarche melanophrys)) and petrels, are susceptible to being caught on baited hooks in pelagic longline fisheries. In the eastern Pacific there is particular concern for the waved albatross, because it is endemic to the EPO and nests only in the Galapagos Islands. Longliners must use one or more seabird bycatch mitigation measures from a set list of options, depending on vessel size and fishing location, including weighted branch line, bird scaring lines, and night setting. However, recommended best practice is for those three measures to be applied simultaneously.

Turtles: IATTC note that tuna fisheries in the Eastern Pacific are having an adverse effect on sea turtle populations, and there is particular concern over the marked decline in the number of nesting female leatherback turtles (3,000 in 1990; 300 in 2015). The Eastern Pacific sub-population of leatherbacks is classified as Critically Endangered and at risk of extinction in the area. In both IATTC and WCPFC areas, vessels must carry line cutters and de-hookers to promptly release turtles or to foster to recovery any sick or comatose turtles captured. Gear modifications such as circle hooks for shallow set gear, or in the IATTC the use of finfish bait only, are also required. A study in 2017 noted that less than 1% of Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) longline effort is subject to mitigation, even though approximately 20% of the WCPO longline effort consists of shallow sets. IATTC have noted that mortality rates of turtles due to longlining are possibly greater for those that set their lines at shallower depths at night for albacore and swordfish, although WCPFC notes that there are significantly more deep sets than shallow sets and a lower chance of live release from deep sets.

Sharks: permissible sharks are to be fully utilized and no more than 5% of fins to total shark weight can be retained; there is a prohibition to land oceanic whitetips and silky sharks (and mobula rays in IATTC area); and countries must develop national plans of action to address the bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds. Shark lines are prohibited. For fisheries specifically targeting sharks, countries are required to develop management plans, demonstrating how they intend to avoid or reduce catches of highly depleted shark species. For the IATTC, any shark (whether alive or dead) caught that is not retained must be promptly released unharmed, following safe release requirements. There are special measures to protect silky sharks, including a limit on bycatch of silky sharks to a maximum of 20% of the total catch by fishing trip in weight. This limit is an interim measure, to be replaced when there is enough data for a stock assessment of the species (although a resolution was passed by IATTC in 2016 requiring stock assessments, and as of 2019 there is still not enough data). Fishing in silky shark pupping areas in IATTC area is prohibited, although these areas do not appear to have been clearly defined. In 2016, WCPFC adopted measures to improve recording of manta and mobula rays discarded and released, and to treat these species as key shark species for assessment and research. The scientific committee has noted that target and limit reference points have not yet been established for pelagic sharks by WCPFC.

Monitoring and reporting is deficient in many fisheries, and the effectiveness of these measures has not been evaluated. In 2016 IATTC introduced stricter monitoring and reporting of catches of shark species, but the scientific committee continues to advise that shark data collection is inadequate and must be improved. The scientific committee has also recommended stricter requirements for seabird mitigation techniques and proof of effectiveness before new techniques are introduced. There is 100% observer coverage on large purse seiners in the EPO so the data coming from these fleets should be useful and of high quality. Only 5% observer coverage is required on longliners greater than 20m in length, although the scientific committee recommends 20% coverage and improved standards of data collection. Despite strong recommendations to increase coverage as part of the urgent measures to protect leatherback turtles, a new IATTC resolution on observer coverage in 2019 kept the minimum at 5%, although consideration of electronic monitoring systems is planned in 2020.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Anchovy, anchovies
Arctic char
Herring or sild
Mackerel
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Swordfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin

References

ACAP, 2019. ACAP Review and Best Practice Advice for Reducing the Impact of Pelagic Longline Fisheries on Seabirds, Reviewed at the Eleventh Meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, 13 - 17 May 2019, Florianopolis, Brazil. Available at https://www.acap.aq/en/bycatch-mitigation/mitigation-advice/3498-acap-2019-review-and-best-practice-advice-for-reducing-the-impact-of-pelagic-longline-fisheries-on-seabirds/file [Accessed on 29.11.2019].

Dias, M. P., Martin. R., Pearmain, E., J., Burfield, I. J., Small, C., Phillips, R. A., Yates, O., Lascelles, B., Garcia Borboroglu, P. and Croxall, J. P., 2019. Threats to seabirds: A global assessment. Biol. Cons. 237, pp 525-537. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.06.033 [Accessed on 29.11.2019].

Griffiths, S. and Fuller, L., 2019. Ecosystem considerations. Document SAC-10-14 presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California, USA. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/Docs/_English/SAC-10-14_Ecosystem%20considerations.pdf [Accessed on 03.12.2019].

Hall, M., Lezama-Ochoa, N., and Roman, M., 2019. Mobulid rays. Presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California, USA. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/BYC-09/Presentations/BYC-09-PRES_Mobulids%20rays.pdf [Accessed on 03.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission: Active IATTC and AIDCP Resolutions and Recommendations. Available at https://www.iattc.org/ResolutionsActiveENG.htm [Accessed on 02.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. Report on the tuna fishery, stocks, and ecosystem in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2018, Document IATTC-94-01 presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission 94th Meeting, 22-26 July 2019, Bilbao, Spain. 125pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/IATTC-94/Docs/_English/IATTC-94-01_The%20tuna%20fishery,%20stocks,%20and%20ecosystem%20in%20the%20Eastern%20Pacific%20Ocean%20in%202018.pdf [Accessed on 02.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. The tuna fishery in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2018 (revised). Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California (USA). 49pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/Docs/_English/SAC-10-03-REV-14-May-19_The%20tuna%20fishery%20in%20the%20EPO%20in%202018.pdf [Accessed on 03.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. Staff recommendations for management and data collection, 2019. Document IATTC-94-03 presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission 94th Meeting, 22-26 July 2019, Bilbao, Spain. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/IATTC-94/Docs/_English/IATTC-94-03_Conservation%20recommendations%20by%20the%20Commission%20staff.pdf [Accessed on 03.12.2019].

Lopez, J., Lennert-Cody, C., Maunder, M., and Aires-da-Silva, A., 2019. Adjusting current FAD limits to meet 2019 staff recommendations for tropical tuna management in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Document FAD-04-01 presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Ad-Hoc Permanent Working Group on Fads Fourth Meeting, 19 July 2019, Bilbao, Spain. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/IATTC-94/Docs/_English/FAD-04-01_Active%20FAD%20limits.pdf [Accessed on 03.12.2019].

Lopez, J., Lennert-Cody, C. E., Maunder, M. N., Xu, H., Brodie, S., Jacox, M., Hartog, J., 2019. Developing alternative conservation measures for bigeye tuna in the eastern pacific ocean: a dynamic ocean management approach. Document SAC-10 INF-D presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California, USA. 24pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/INF/_English/SAC-10-INF-D_Bigeye%20tuna%20Dynamic%20Ocean%20Management.pdf [Accessed on 04.12.2019].

ISSF, 2019. Status of the world fisheries for tuna. Oct. 2019. ISSF Technical Report 2019-12. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, D.C., USA. Available at https://iss-foundation.org/knowledge-tools/technical-and-meeting-reports/download-info/issf-2019-12-status-of-the-world-fisheries-for-tuna-october-2019/ [Accessed on 26.11.2019].

Wallace, B., 2019. A call for collaboration between IAC and IATTC to save Eastern Pacific leatherbacks. Presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California, USA. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/BYC-09/Presentations/BYC-09-PRES_A%20call%20for%20collaboration%20between%20IAC%20and%20IATTC%20to%20save%20Eastern%20Pacific%20leatherbacks.pdf [Accessed on 02.12.2019].

WCPFC, 2019. Reference document for the review of CMM 2005-03 (North Pacific albacore). Document WCPFC16-2019-23 presented to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Sixteenth Regular Session, 5 - 11 December 2019, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/node/44423 [Accessed on 05.12.2019].

WCPFC, 2019. Conservation and Management Measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/conservation-and-management-measures [Accessed on 05.12.2019].