Tuna, albacore

Thunnus alalunga

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — Atlantic, South (FAO 41,47)
Stock area — South Atlantic
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Tuna, albacore

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2019 

Albacore stocks in the south Atlantic are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The latest stock assessment was undertaken in 2016 and indicated that it was likely that the stock was not overfished nor experiencing overfishing, although the biomass, B, was is estimated to be only slightly above the level associated with Maximum Sustainable Yield (B2015 at 1.1BMSY). From 2017-2020 the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) is 24,000 t, with individual catch limits assigned to each country. If the TAC is exceeded in 2016 it will be reduced accordingly in 2018. There is no agreed harvest control rule, but there is implied agreement to keep the stock above and below MSY reference points for biomass and mortality respectively. Projections suggest that catches consistent with the TAC lead to a greater than 60% probability of the stock being in a good state by 2020. Recent catches have been well below the TAC - preliminary 2018 catch was 17,098t.

Pelagic longlining in the ICCAT area can be associated with significant bycatch of other billfish and vulnerable species such as sharks, turtles and seabirds. Whilst some mitigation measures are in place, their effectiveness has not been evaluated and better data collection & reporting is needed. Observer coverage is 5% on large longliners, increasing to 10% in 2022, but compliance has been mixed, and 20% coverage is recommended.

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 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

South Atlantic

Stock information

Albacore stocks in the south Atlantic are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The most recent assessment of the stock was carried out in 2016 using data up to 2014 and used a number of scenarios to look at current status. Considering all scenarios, there is a 66% probability that the stock is neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. Biomass, B, is estimated to be above Maximum Sustainable Yield, BMSY (B2015/BMSY = 1.10, ranging between 0.51 and 1.80) and fishing effort, F, is below (F2014/FMSY = 0.54, ranging from 0.31 to 0.87). The stock status has improved since the last assessment.

Albacore landings increased sharply to around 25,000 tonnes from 1960s to the 1980s, increased again to 35,000t until the 2000s, then dropped to around 20,000t. 2017 catch was around 13,800 t - one of the lowest on record, but in 2018 this increased to a preliminary 17,098t. Estimated Maximum Sustainable Yield is 25,901t, with quite a wide range of uncertainty (15,270-31,768t). The TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for 2017-2020 is 24,000t, and projections suggest that catches consistent with the TAC would result in the stock being in a good state in 2020 with higher than 60% probability. The next stock assessment is expected in 2020.

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. To try and address this, 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. This stock is managed and assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). 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. There remain large data deficiencies in most tuna and billfish fisheries, particularly with regards to fine scale spatial and temporal data for both target and especially for vulnerable bycatch species. For this reason, it is important to choose tuna that has been caught by vessels that are well regulated by their flag state.

From 2017-2020 the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) is 24,000 t, with individual catch limits assigned to each country. If the TAC is exceeded in 2016 it will be reduced accordingly in 2018. Projections suggest that catches consistent with the TAC lead to a greater than 60% probability of the stock being in a good state by 2020, lower TACs would increase the probability, and catches above 26,000 t would reduce probability to less than 60%.
ICCAT maintains a list of vessels over 20m authorised to fish for this species, although other vessels may retain them as bycatch as long as the country sets limits on this and doesn’t exceed its quota.
In 2016 countries were mandated to immediately improve their catch reporting systems to ensure the reporting of accurate and validated southern Atlantic albacore catch and effort data to ICCAT.

Other management measures of note include:
In 2019 ICCAT increased observer coverage: large purse seiners targeting tropical tunas must have 100% coverage year round rather than just during the FAD closures, and longline coverage will increase from 5% to 10% in 2022. However, the 5% coverage was not well complied with or enforced by some fleets (although others exceeded it), and even this increase falls short of recommendations for a minimum of 20% for accurate reporting of bycatch. However, standards for electronic monitoring are to be developed by 2021. Purse seine and longline vessels over 20m long are encouraged to increase their observer coverage from the required minimum, and some have. Vessel Monitoring Systems are required for all vessels over 24m.
Drift nets are banned in the Mediterranean.
ICCAT maintains lists of vessels authorised to fish for tuna and tuna-like species in the ICCAT area, and those caught carrying out Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated activities.
At-sea transhipment is prohibited unless pre-authorised and the vessel has an observer on board.
In 2017 ICCAT banned the discarding of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye.
In 2016 the Commission passed measures to strengthen and streamline its compliance assessment process and to develop a scheme of responses to non-compliance.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

The recent total annual South Atlantic albacore landings were largely attributed to four fisheries, namely the surface bait boat fleets of South Africa and Namibia, and the longline fleets of Brazil and Chinese Taipei. The surface fleets are entirely albacore directed and mainly catch juvenile and sub adult fish (70cm to 90cm FL). On average, the longline vessels catch larger albacore (60cm to 120cm FL) than the surface fleets. 73% of the catch is made by longlining and 26% by pole and line, with smaller amounts from troll & jig bait boats. Pelagic longlining is associated with the bycatch of vulnerable species, including sharks, sea turtles and seabirds.

ICCAT aims to take an ecosystem-based and precautionary approach to fisheries management. In order to protect juvenile swordfish, a closure period applies to longline vessels targeting Mediterranean albacore from 1 October to 30 November each year.

For sharks: Countries are required to develop and submit National Plans of Action for the conservation and management of sharks. Sharks must be fully utilised (e.g. no removal of fins); must be released wherever possible (if not being directly targeted); and countries must try to minimise bycatch of sharks (although no gear-specific measures are identified). Catching silky sharks, hammerheads, oceanic whitetips, and bigeye threshers is prohibited, and catching other thresher species is discouraged. Shortfin mako, which is heavily overfished, can be caught and retained if over 180cm for males and 210cm for females, otherwise, they must be released unharmed. An updated assessment in 2019 indicated that shortfin mako is unlikely to recover to healthy levels until 2070, unless size restrictions combined with a fixed Total Allowable Catch were introduced. The maximum catch that would allow recovery by 2070 with a reasonable probability (60%) was 300 tonnes. Regardless of management measures, the stock will continue to decline until 2035. However, in 2019 ICCAT failed to reach agreement on measures to protect this species. Catch limits are now in place for both northern (39,102t as of 2016) and southern (28,923t as of 2016) blue sharks, with the northern TAC being allocated out to countries - a first for ICCAT shark stocks. If exceeded, the commission has committed to reviewing the effectiveness of its blue shark management measures (although preliminary catch of northern blue shark in 2016 was 42,117 t). Porbeagle is overfished throughout the Atlantic, significantly so in the northwest, and for the north Atlantic overall it is predicted to take at least 30 years to recover if there was zero fishing mortality. The main porbeagle-directed fisheries (EU, Uruguay and Canada) have closed, and ICCAT have a recommendation to release live porbeagle unharmed, but it is still caught incidentally and discarded, and also landed by other fleets. Currently there is not enough data to properly assess the status of many pelagic sharks (no assessments have been carried out for the Mediterranean).

For seabirds: There are particular concerns over the status of albatross and petrels. South of 20 degrees South, vessels must use bird-scaring lines. Swordfish vessels are exempt from this if they fish at night and weight their hooks. South of 25 degrees South, vessels must use 2 of the three measures (bird-scarers, night fishing or weighted hooks). In the Mediterranean, these measures are voluntary. However, recommended best practice is to use all three of the aforementioned measures for all longline vessels.

For turtles: Longliners must carry equipment and have training to enable them to safely release turtles that have been caught. Countries are required to research and trial circle hooks for longliners. The scientific committee recommends that longliners targeting swordfish and sharks must use either large circle hooks or finfish bait as mitigation, but as of 2019 this has still not been implemented.

Observer coverage was increased in 2019 (see Management) but is still inadequate for purse seiners targeting species other than tropical tunas, and all longliners.

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

EC, 2019. European Commission Press: Good news for tuna and blue sharks, 29.11.2019. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/press/good-news-tuna-and-blue-sharks_en [Accessed on 09.12.2019].

ICCAT, 2019. Report of the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, 30 September - 4 October 2019, Madrid, Spain. 459 pp. Available at https://www.iccat.int/Documents/Meetings/Docs/2019/REPORTS/2019_SCRS_ENG.pdf [Accessed on 09.12.2019].

ISSF, 2019. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation Blog: ICCAT Moves to Protect Atlantic Bigeye and Close Gaps in Monitoring and Data Collection, 4 December 2019. Available at https://iss-foundation.org/iccat-moves-to-protect-atlantic-bigeye-and-close-gaps-in-monitoring-and-data-collection/ [Accessed on 09.12.2019].

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].

ICCAT, 2018. Resolutions, Recommendations and other Decisions. Available at http://www.iccat.es/en/RecsRegs.asp [Accessed on 11.12.2018].

IPNLF, 2012. Ensuring sustainability of live bait fish, International Pole and Line Foundation, London, 57 pp.