Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — Atlantic, North (FAO 21,27) and Central (FAO 31,34)
Stock area — North Atlantic
Stock detail — All Areas
Updated: December 2019
Albacore stocks in the north 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 indicated that the stock was not overfished (B2015 at 1.36BMSY) or subject to overfishing (Fishing mortality, F2014at 0.54FMSY). Preliminary 2018 catch was 29,363t, higher than the recent average (around 27,000t) but below the 2018 Total Allowable Catch (33,600t) and Maximum Sustainable Yield (37,082 t). There is a Multi-Annual Plan in place for North Atlantic Albacore, which has the objective of maintaining the stock in a good state with at least 60% probability. Following a review and provision of advice by the scientific committee in 2017, the plan is now supported by a Harvest Control Rule with MSY-based targets and limits. The Harvest Control Rule is expected to maintain the stock in a good state with at least 60% probability. Since the establishment of the TAC in 2001, catch has remained substantially below the limit in all but four years, which might have accelerated rebuilding over the last decade. Since 1999, there has been a limit on the number of vessels in the fishery which appears to have reduced mortality.
Approximately 25% of the albacore from the North Atlantic is caught in pelagic trawl fisheries. Pelagic trawling for tuna can encounter bycatch of vulnerable species such as dolphins and sharks. Monitoring of bycatch is poor in these fisheries and there are no specific measures to mitigate the effects of this gear on vulnerable species and juvenile tunas.
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.
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.
Criterion score: 0 info
Albacore stocks in the north Atlantic are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Scientific studies on stocks in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and the Mediterranean, suggest that environmental variability may have a serious potential impact on albacore, affecting fisheries by changing the fishing grounds as well as productivity levels and potential Maximum Sustainable Yield. This could explain recent changes, e.g. the lack of availability of albacore in the Bay of Biscay in some years, or the apparent decline in the estimated recruitment.
The most recent assessment of the stock was carried out in 2016 using data up to 2014. As with previous analyses, the model indicates that spawning stock biomass decreased between 1930 and the 1990s, and was in an overfished state in the 1980s and 1990s. It has recovered since then, and fishing mortality has decreased. While biomass, B, is estimated to be above Maximum Sustainable Yield (B2015/BMSY = 1.36), there are concerns that this might be overestimated. Fishing effort, F, is below (F2014/FMSY = 0.54). The probability of the stock currently not being overfished and not undergoing overfishing is 96.8%. The next stock assessment is due in 2020.
After peaking at 60,000 tonnes in the 1960s, landings of northern albacore declined to 37,000t in 2006 and reached the historical minimum of around 15,000t in 2009. Preliminary 2018 catch was 29,363t, higher than the recent average (around 27,000t) but below the 2018 Total Allowable Catch (33,600t) and Maximum Sustainable Yield (37,082 t). The Harvest Control Rule adopted in 2018 is expected to maintain the stock in a good state with at least 60% probability. Since the establishment of the TAC in 2001, catch has remained substantially below the limit in all but four years, which might have accelerated rebuilding over the last decade.
Northern albacore are targeted by fisheries which take mainly immature and sub-adult fish, which could have implications for the stock. The scientific committee’s ability to monitor changes in stock abundance is currently limited due to incomplete fishery dependent information, and alternative fishery independent data is needed to address this.
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.
There is a Multi-Annual Plan in place for North Atlantic Albacore. Following a review and provision of advice by the scientific committee in 2017, the plan is now supported by a scientifically robust (according to a peer-review in 2018) Harvest Control Rule with MSY-based targets and limits. It is expected to maintain the stock in a good state with at least 60% probability. The management plan includes the following measures:
The TAC (Total Allowable Catch) in 2017 is 28,000 t, with individual catch limits assigned to each country. This increases to 33,600 t for 2018-2020.
Since 1999, capacity has been limited to the average number of vessels from 1993-1995. The effect of this has not been evaluated but a general decrease of fishing mortality has been observed since its implementation.
ICCAT maintains a list of vessels over 20m authorised to fish for these species, although other vessels may retain them as bycatch as long as the country sets limits on this and doesn’t exceed its quota.
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.
Criterion score: 0.75 info
Approximately 25% of the albacore from the North Atlantic is caught in pelagic trawl fisheries, carried out by mainly EU fleets. Pelagic trawling for tuna can encounter bycatch of vulnerable species such as dolphins and sharks. Monitoring of bycatch is poor in these fisheries and there are no specific measures to mitigate the effects of this gear on vulnerable species and juvenile tunas.
ICCAT aims to take an ecosystem-based and precautionary approach to fisheries management. 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.
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
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
ReferencesEC, 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.