Tuna, albacore

Thunnus alalunga

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — Mediterranean (FAO 37)
Stock area — Mediterranean
Stock detail

All Areas


Picture of Tuna, albacore

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

In general, there is poor knowledge about Mediterranean albacore biology and ecology. A new stock assessment was carried out in 2017 using data up to 2015, using methods consistent with the limited data category of this stock. It shows that the status of the stock is highly uncertain, but seems to indicate that the stock is not overfished (Biomass, B2015 at 1.002BMSY with a range of 0.456-1.760) or being subject to overfishing (F2015 at 0.83FMSY, with a range of 0.223-2.194), but very high uncertainty is noted. The probability of the stock being in a good state is at 48.5%recent. Given the uncertainty of Mediterranean albacore stock status, the scientific committee have advised to avoid increases in catch and effort directed at the stock. In 2018 measures came into effect with that objective in mind, and will be in place until the scientific committee can provide more accurate stock status advice. The number of vessels authorised to fish for albacore is frozen to 2017 levels and fishing for the species by all vessels is prohibited from 1st October to 30th November - this latter measure is part of the Mediterranean swordfish rebuilding plan which includes a two month longline albacore closure to protect juvenile swordfish. Most of the catch is taken in pelagic longline fisheries which 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, yet this is not being complied with by several countries 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: 0.25 info

Stock Area

Mediterranean

Stock information

Albacore in the Mediterranean are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Scientific studies on albacore stocks, in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and the Mediterranean, suggest that environmental variability may have a serious potential impact on albacore stocks, affecting fisheries by changing the fishing grounds, as well as productivity levels and potential MSY of the stocks. Those yet sufficiently unexplored aspects might explain recently observed changes in fisheries, such as the lack of availability of the resource in the Bay of Biscay in some years, or the apparent decline in the estimated recruitment which are demanding focussed research. Besides some additional recent studies on maturity, in general, there is poor knowledge about Mediterranean albacore biology and ecology.

The most recent stock assessment was carried out in 2017 using data up to 2015, using methods consistent with the “limited data” category of this stock. It shows that the status of the stock is highly uncertain, but seems to indicate that recent albacore biomass levels, B, are at about levels consistent with Maximum Sustainable Yield, MSY (B2015 at 1.002BMSY with a range of 0.456-1.760), and fishing mortality levels, F, are below FMSY (F2015 at 0.83FMSY, with a range of 0.223-2.194). The probability of the stock being in a good state (as indicated by the assessment) is 48.5% - meanwhile, the probability of it being overfished and undergoing overfishing is 35.7%. Maximum Sustainable Yield is estimated to be 3,419 t (albeit with uncertainty, with estimates ranging form 2,187 t to 7,842 t). Owing to the data limitations, no projections could be carried out to indicate the effect of current catch levels.

In 2017 Mediterranean albacore catch was 2,780 t, similar to the 2012-2016 average of 2,765 t. The Scientific Committee reiterates that the ability to monitor stock trends is limited, and that the data currently used to do so might be affected by the ban imposed as part of the swordfish recovery plan.

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 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.

Given the uncertainty of Mediterranean albacore stock status, the scientific committee have advised to avoid increases in catch and effort directed at the stock. In 2018 measures will come into effect with that objective in mind, and will be in place until the scientific committee can provide more accurate stock status advice. The number of vessels authorised to fish for albacore is frozen to 2017 levels and fishing for the species by all vessels is prohibited from 1st October to 30th November - this latter measure will remain in place for as long as the Mediterranean swordfish rebuilding plan includes a two month longline albacore closure to protect Mediterranean swordfish juveniles.

Other management measures of note include:
There is a mandatory level of observer coverage of 5%, which may not have been implemented by many fleets, although some fleets are currently implementing voluntary observer programmes that cover 100% of fishing trips. This is in spite of scientific committee recommendation of a minimum of 20% for accurate reporting of bycatch. Purse seine and longline vessels over 20m long are encouraged to increase their observer coverage from the required minimum. Vessel Monitoring Systems are required for all vessels over 24m.
In 2015 a working group was formed to look at ways to reduce juvenile catches of bigeye and yellowfin tuna caught in FAD fishing.
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

Approximately 96% of the catch is taken in pelagic longline fisheries and about 4% in surface fisheries such as gill net, purse seine, troll and pole and line fisheries. Italy is the main producer of Mediterranean albacore, with 57% of the catch during the last 10 years. Mediterranean longline and gill net fisheries are associated with bycatch of sharks, birds and turtles.

ICCAT aims to take an ecosystem-based and precautionary approach to fisheries management. In order to minimize the ecological impact of FADs, in particular the entanglement of sharks, turtles and other non-targeted species, and the release of synthetic persistent marine debris, countries must use non-entangling FADs and phase out non-biodegradable FADs. Countries must have FAD Management Plans that improve understanding of FADs and limit their impacts on the ecosystem. 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). Sharks 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 can be caught and retained, but as of 2017 the country’s law must require a minimum length of 180cm for males and 210cm for females, otherwise, shortfin makos caught alive must be released unharmed. This is expected to prevent the stock’s currently poor state from worsening, and a rebuilding plan will be developed for 2019. In 2016 additional measures for blue shark were introduced, mainly focussed on improved data recording, with potential to introduce Harvest Control Rules. A catch limit of 39,102 t was also introduced in the north Atlantic (but none for the south Atlantic): if exceeded the commission has committed to reviewing the effectiveness of its blue shark management measures. Preliminary catch 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) and more work is needed to understand the effects of entanglement in FADs.

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 mentioned. 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: Purse seiners must avoid encircling turtles and release them when they do so. 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 this has not been implemented.

There is a mandatory level of observer coverage of 5%, which may not have been implemented by many fleets, in spite of scientific committee recommendation of a minimum of 20% for accurate reporting of bycatch. However, some fleets are currently implementing voluntary observer programmes that cover 100% of fishing trips.

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

ICCAT, 2018. Report of the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, 1-5 October 2018, Madrid, Spain. 469 pp. Available at https://www.iccat.int/Documents/Meetings/Docs/2018/REPORTS/2018_SCRS_REP_ENG.pdf [Accessed on 22.11.2018].

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

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].