Tuna, albacore

Thunnus alalunga

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — Indian Ocean, Western (FAO 51) and Eastern ( FAO 57)
Stock area — Indian Ocean
Stock detail

All Areas


Picture of Tuna, albacore

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

The latest assessment of Indian Ocean albacore was undertaken in 2016, and showed that overfishing was not occurring (Fishing mortality, F2014, at 0.85 Fmsy) and the stock is not in an overfished state (Spawning Biomass, SB2014, at 1.8 SBmsy). The preliminary 2017 catch of 38,347 t is higher than the 2013-2017 average (36,004 t) but is just below Maximum Sustainable Yield (38,800). There is considerable uncertainty in the assessment, particularly due to the lack of biological information on Indian Ocean albacore tuna stocks and some countries in the IOTC do not report fishery data which is important for stock assessment and management. In 2018, the IOTC introduced a new measure aimed at improving reporting on direct and incidental catches, including prohibiting a country from retaining a species if they fail to report catches for that species. A precautionary approach to the management of albacore tuna is recommended, by capping total catch levels to MSY levels. However, there are no specific management measures for Indian Ocean albacore tuna. No harvest control rule has been developed for the stock, although IOTC has set targets and thresholds for fishing effort and spawning stock biomass for all of the species it manages. Almost 100% of the catch is from pelagic longline fisheries and there is concern for bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds in these fisheries. It is likely that longline fleets are contributing to decline of these species. Observer coverage is relatively low at 5% for vessels over 24m and for vessels fishing on the High Seas. 20% coverage has been recommended in other longline fisheries.

Commercial buyers should establish what measures the flag state and fleet relating to their source is taking to reduce impacts to and improve reporting of interactions with vulnerable species. Large buyers should consider supporting such improvements.

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 10 years. Albacore mature when about 90cm length and 4-5 years old. Spawning normally occurs between January and July.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Stock Area

Indian Ocean

Stock information

Indian Ocean tuna stocks are managed by Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Prior to 1980 there were 20 years of moderate fishing, after which total catches of albacore tuna in the Indian Ocean more than doubled, peaking in 2001 at around 45,000 t. Between 1986 and 1991 the driftnet fishery was a responsible for a significant proportion (around 50% or more) of catches, with longlining dominating throughout the rest of the period. The impacts of piracy in the western Indian Ocean resulted in the displacement of a substantial portion of longline fishing effort into the traditional albacore fishing areas in the southern and eastern Indian Ocean. With the reduction of the effects of piracy in recent years, due to increased security on-board vessels of some longline fleets (e.g. Taiwan and China), it is unlikely that catch and effort on albacore will increase in the near future.

The latest assessment was undertaken in 2016, and showed that overfishing was not occurring (Fishing mortality, F2014, at 0.85 Fmsy) and the stock is not in an overfished state (Spawning Biomass, SB2014, at 1.8 SBmsy). The preliminary 2017 catch of 38,347 t is higher than the 2013-2017 average (36,004 t) but is just below Maximum Sustainable Yield (38,800). There is considerable uncertainty in the assessment, particularly due to the lack of biological information on Indian Ocean albacore tuna stocks. The two primary sources of data that drive the assessment, total catches and CPUE, are highly uncertain and should be developed further as a priority.

Maintaining or increasing effort in the core albacore fishing grounds is likely to result in further decline in the albacore tuna biomass, productivity and CPUE. If catches are maintained at 2014 levels (39,701t) there is a moderate chance of the stock becoming overfished by 2017 (14% probability) and undergoing overfishing (33% probability). A precautionary approach to the management of albacore tuna is recommended, by capping total catch levels to MSY levels.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Most tuna stocks range across and are accessed by numerous coastal states, making harmonised and effective management of these individual stocks very difficult. To try and achieve this, Intergovernmental Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have been established; for this stock it is the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). There are five main tuna RFMOs worldwide and it is their responsibility to carry out data collection, scientific monitoring and management of these fisheries. Whilst the 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.

There are persistent failures by some countries to report to the commission annually, including reporting catch data, and other issues with lack of data and poor quality data persist. In 2018 IOTC introduced a new measure aimed at improving reporting on direct and incidental catches, including prohibiting a country from retaining a species if they fail to report catches for that species.

There are no specific management measures for Indian Ocean albacore tuna. No harvest control rule has been developed for the stock, although IOTC has set targets and thresholds for fishing effort and spawning stock biomass for all of the species it manages. Piracy in the southwest Indian Ocean has displaced considerable tuna fishing effort to traditional albacore fishing grounds in the southern and eastern Indian Ocean, which has presented challenges to limiting fishing effort on the albacore stock. A precautionary approach to the management of albacore tuna is recommended by the scientific committee, capping total catch levels to MSY levels (approximately 40,000 t).

The main management measure for the stock is a freeze on capacity to 2007 levels which extends to vessels greater than 24m in length, or vessels under this length operating in international waters. This is to be reviewed in 2018.

Other IOTC conservation and management measures of note include:
A ban on the discarding of bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tunas by purse seine vessels which from 2018 will extend to non target species such as other tunas and billfish.
A ban on the use of aircrafts and unmanned aerial vehicles as fishing aids, which significantly contribute to fishing effort by helping to detect fish.
A ban on surface or submerged artificial lights for the purpose of aggregating tuna and tuna-like species beyond territorial waters.
In 2012 IOTC banned the use of driftnets on the high seas. In 2022 this will be extended to the entire IOTC area (i.e. within countries’ EEZs as well).
5% regional observer coverage is required for all vessels over 24m and for vessels under 24m fishing outside of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
To help address IUU, the IOTC maintains an active vessel register and an IUU Vessel List and prohibits transhipments for large scale vessels at sea unless they are pre-approved, monitored by an observer and the vessel uses a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS).

In 2016 IOTC introduced a number of resolutions to improve the poor compliance with existing management measures, e.g. observer coverage, catch and effort reporting, support for countries to implement measures.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Almost 100% of albacore catches in the IOTC are made by drifting longlines. Several mitigation measures are in place (sharks, turtles, sea birds), but monitoring is deficient. Longlining targets large mature fish compared with purse seining, yet is associated with significant incidental capture and mortality of vulnerable sharks, turtles and sea birds.

A number of threatened seabirds can interact with longline fisheries in the Indian Ocean, including the critically endangered Amsterdam albatross (which lives on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean), shy, black-browed, and wandering albatrosses. As with most tuna RFMOs, the IOTC requires two seabird bycatch mitigation measures from a list of three options (weighted branch line, bird scaring lines, and night setting), but recommended best practice is for these three measures to be applied simultaneously. Monitoring and reporting is deficient, and there has not been enough information available to fully review the effectiveness of the applied mitigation measures.

There is currently too little data to carry out stock assessments for shark species, so the scientific committee recommends better monitoring and a precautionary approach to their management. Full utilisation of sharks is required (i.e. no fin removal), unwanted sharks must be released live wherever possible and shark catches must be reported annually. Hooking mortality is apparently very high for bigeye and pelagic threshers, therefore the prohibition on retaining of any part of thresher sharks onboard and promoting live release of thresher shark may be largely ineffective for species conservation. In 2018 IOTC introduced a new measure on management of blue shark stocks, requiring better data collection on catches and discards and paving the way to consider additional management measures in 2021. Transshipment of oceanic whitetips and thresher sharks is prohibited. Countries must develop conservation and management measures for vulnerable shark species. A number of countries are currently incorporating a ban on the retention of oceanic whitetip sharks into national legislation in accordance with IOTC resolutions, but it is too early to evaluate the impact of this.

The status of all turtle species in the Indian Ocean is concerning. The scientific committee advises that maintaining or increasing fishing effort in the Indian Ocean without appropriate mitigation measures in place will likely result in further declines in biomass, and recommends that appropriate mechanisms are developed to ensure compliance with data collection and reporting requirements. Turtles must be released wherever possible and countries are requested to research other mitigation techniques. Longliners must carry cutters or de-hookers to aid with this but gear modification, such as circle hooks, is not required.

Interactions with all vulnerable non-target species should be recorded. Several countries have failed to implement national plans for sharks, seabirds and turtles as required (although the shark plan is not binding in India as they have objected to the measure).Click here to see which countries had and had not fully implemented plans and actions for seabirds, sharks and marine turtles in 2016.

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
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chinook, King Salmon
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Coho , Silver, White
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Sprat, whitebait
Swordfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, bigeye
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin

References

IOTC, 2017. Report of the 13th Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch, IOTC-2017-WPEB13-R, for the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, 4-8 September 2017, San Sebastian, Spain. 124pp. Available at http://www.iotc.org/meetings/13th-working-party-ecosystems-and-bycatch-wpeb13 [Accessed 21.11.2017].

IOTC, 2018. Compendium of Active Conservation and Management Measures for the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, 04 October 2018. Avaiable at http://www.iotc.org/cmms [Accessed on 6.12.2018].

IOTC, 2018. Executive Summary: Albacore, Status of the Indian Ocean albacore (ALB: Thunnus alalunga) resource, IOTC-2018-SC21-ES01 for the 21st Meeting of the Scientifc Committee of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, 3-7 December 2018, Mahe, Seychelles. 3 pp. Available at http://www.iotc.org/meetings/21st-scientific-committee-sc21 [Accessed on 04.12.2018].

IOTC, 2018. Outcomes of the 22nd Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, IOTC-2018-SC21-16 [E], 21-25 May 2018, Bangkok, Thailand. 4 pp. Available at http://www.iotc.org/meetings/22nd-session-indian-ocean-tuna-commission-s22 [Accessed on 04.12.2-18].

IOTC, 2018. Report of the 22nd Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, IOTC-2018-S22-R[E], 21-25 May 2018, Bangkok, Thailand. 144 pp. Available at http://www.iotc.org/meetings/22nd-session-indian-ocean-tuna-commission-s22 [Accessed on 04.12.2-18].

ISSF, 2018. Status of the world fisheries for tuna: October 2018. ISSF Technical Report 2018-21. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, D.C., USA. 103 pp. Available at: https://iss-foundation.org/about-tuna/status-of-the-stocks/ [Accessed on 06.12.2018].