North Atlantic Albacore Tuna

Atlantic Albacore Tuna

Thunnus alalunga


    Longfin Tuna, Germon


    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Louisiana



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Albacore on the line

Albacore on the line.


Albacore tuna is a “highly migratory species” – these fish are found around the world and can travel long distances. Albacore are a temperate (cooler water) species but spawn in warmer tropical waters. Unlike non-migratory species that are only found off our coasts, we’re not the only ones fishing for albacore. Fisheries for highly migratory species such as albacore require cooperative international management to ensure the resource is abundant and global harvests are sustainable.

There are six stocks of albacore – North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea. Most albacore on the market comes from the Pacific, and U.S. fishermen mainly target both North and South Pacific stocks (see Pacific albacore tuna). Albacore hasn’t been a main focus of the U.S. commercial tuna fisheries operating in the North Atlantic. U.S. fishermen catch less than 2% of the total international catch of North Atlantic albacore. Nonetheless, the United States actively participates in the conservation and management of this resource and fishery.

Looking Ahead

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the organization responsible for coordinating management for Atlantic albacore tuna, established a rebuilding plan for the North Atlantic albacore stock. A rebuilding plan outlines the strategy for managing harvest at a level that will allow an overfished stock to rebuild to target population levels by a specified deadline (in northern albacore’s case, 2020). ICCAT set the annual total allowable catch for 2010 through 2013 at 28,000 metric tons, approximately 77 percent of which is allocated to the European Union. If this catch level is exceeded, ICCAT will reevaluate it and make further recommendations as needed.



In general, albacore tuna live in tropical and warm temperate waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In the Atlantic, they’re found from Nova Scotia to northern Argentina, and from Ireland to South Africa. Juveniles prefer warmer surface waters; adults like cooler and deeper waters.

Albacore are a highly migratory species – they swim long distances throughout the oceans. Similarly sized albacore travel together in schools that can be up to 19 miles wide. Schools of albacore also sometimes include other tuna species such as skipjack, yellowfin, and bluefin tuna.



Albacore grow relatively fast, up to over 4 feet and 88 pounds. In the Atlantic, they live up to 13 years and are able to reproduce by age 5. In the spring and summer, albacore spawn in subtropical waters of the Atlantic and throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Depending on their size, females have between 2 million and 3 million eggs per spawning season.

Albacore, like other species of tuna, have unique biological characteristics that enable them to swim at speeds over 50 miles per hour and cover vast areas during annual migrations. They have torpedo-shaped bodies, smooth skin, and streamlined fins. They also have a highly evolved circulatory system that regulates their body temperature and increases muscle efficiency; a high metabolism; and high blood pressure, volume, and hemoglobin, all of which increase oxygen absorption. Because they lack the structures needed to pump oxygen-rich water over their gills, they must constantly swim with their mouths open in order to breathe.

Albacore tuna feed near the top of the food chain, preying upon a variety of fish, crustaceans, and squid. They’re also prey for many top predators, including sharks, rays, larger tunas, and billfishes.



Albacore tuna are metallic, dark blue on the back with dusky to silvery white coloration along the sides of the belly. They have exceptionally long pectoral fins, which are nearly half the length of their bodies. The edge of the tail fin is white.



The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) assesses the abundance of North Atlantic albacore and evaluates the sustainability of current and proposed harvest practices. They use the scientific information from these assessments to make management recommendations. ICCAT last assessed North Atlantic albacore in 2009 and plans to assess this stock again in 2013.



Scientists concluded that the Atlantic albacore stock has been below target levels since the late 1960s and is currently at 62 percent of its target population level.



NOAA Fisheries scientists continue to research improvements in how they model changes in Atlantic albacore’s population and the impact of fishing on the resource.


Harvesting Albacore Tuna

Albacore is a highly migratory species – they travel throughout large areas of the ocean and are harvested by many nations using different types of fishing gear. In the Atlantic, albacore are roughly divided at the equator into North and South Atlantic stocks. Albacore hasn’t been a main focus of the U.S. commercial tuna fisheries operating in the North Atlantic. They’re most often harvested incidentally in the commercial pelagic longline fishery for swordfish and other tunas. U.S. commercial fishermen also use rod and reel gear to catch albacore tuna.

Although neither gear type has an impact on habitat, pelagic longlines can incidentally catch protected species such as marine mammals and sea turtles. U.S. commercial fishermen using pelagic longline gear follow a number of strict regulations to prevent bycatch:

  • They must use large circle hooks and certain types of bait that limit gear interactions with sea turtles. Circle hooks are specifically designed to minimize the damage caused by hooking, giving animals that are captured and released a better chance at survival.
  • They’re trained to use special techniques to safely dehook and disentangle any unintentionally caught turtles.
  • They’re also required to stop fishing and move 1 nautical mile if they encounter a protected species.
  • To protect pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins, pelagic longline vessels fishing in the Mid-Atlantic Bight must limit the length of their lines to 20 nautical miles and post marine mammal handling/release guidelines on their vessels. In addition, if fishing in the Cape Hatteras Special Research Area, pelagic longliners must contact NOAA Fisheries at least 48 hours prior to a trip and carry observers if requested.
  • In the Gulf of Mexico, longline fishermen must use weak hooks to reduce accidental catch of bluefin tuna and may not use live bait in order to reduce bycatch of billfish.
  • Areas of the Gulf of Mexico are also closed to longline fishing to reduce bycatch of all species.
  • Longline fishermen must carry vessel monitoring systems (satellite technology) onboard their boats to enforce these closures.
  • NOAA Fisheries monitors the pelagic longline fishery for interactions with protected species through at-sea fisheries observers on a quarterly basis and reviews data for appropriate action, if any, as necessary.


Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division; also, because Atlantic albacore tuna move throughout large areas of the Atlantic Ocean and are fished by many nations using various gear types, management by the United States alone is not enough to ensure that harvests are sustainable in the long term. The United States negotiates with Regional Fisheries Management Organizations including the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to enhance tuna management worldwide. NOAA Fisheries sets regulations for the albacore fishery based on our science and on conservation and management recommendations from ICCAT.

Current management: Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan
Generally, ICCAT conservation and management recommendations include total allowable catches, sharing arrangements for member countries, minimum size limits, effort controls, time/area closures, trade measures, compliance measures, and monitoring and inspection programs. ICCAT established a rebuilding program for northern albacore through 2020, limiting total catch and allocating the total allowable catch among member nations. If ICCAT members do not harvest their full quota in a year, they can carry over underharvest of their quota to the next year but must limit it to 25 percent of their initial catch quota. The United States is in compliance with the ICCAT-recommended quota, consistent with the international rebuilding plan for northern albacore.

Domestic management measures for this fishery also include permits, gear restrictions, and time/area closures. Federal management for Atlantic tunas apply to state waters as well, except in Maine, Connecticut, and Mississippi; NOAA Fisheries periodically reviews these states’ regulations to make sure they’re consistent with federal regulations.


Annual Harvest

Total U.S. harvests of northern albacore in the Atlantic have consistently been below the allotted amount from ICCAT, e.g., 329 of the 527 metric tons allowed for 2010. In 2010, commercial fishermen harvested 141 metric tons (311,000 pounds) of northern albacore tuna in the Atlantic, mainly off the northeastern coast. U.S. fishermen have not harvested southern albacore since 2004; even then, harvests were relatively small, ranging between 1 and 8 metric tons annually between 1996 and 2004.



The average ex-vessel price (the price fishermen receive for their catch) for albacore tuna increased in the South Atlantic and North Atlantic regions and decreased in the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in 2010. From 2003 to 2010, the average ex-vessel price of albacore tuna increased 53 percent. The ex-vessel price depends on a number of factors, including the quality of the fish (e.g., freshness, fat content, method of storage), the weight of the fish, the supply of fish, and consumer demand. In 2010, annual ex-vessel revenues for the fishery totaled $425,550.

In addition, recreational fishing for highly migratory species such as albacore tuna also provides significant economic benefits to coastal communities through individual angler expenditures, recreational charters, tournaments, and the shoreside businesses that support those activities.



Recreational fishermen also fish for albacore tuna. They must have a federal permit to do so.



Albacore has a mild, rich taste and a firm, steaky texture, with large, moist flakes. However, it’s not as firm as yellowfin or bluefin, so it’s not well-suited for sashimi. Albacore meat is less dense than bluefin tuna, although it is one of the fattiest species, with more omega-3 fatty acids than any other tuna. Albacore has the lightest-colored meat of all the tunas – it can range from light beige to almost brown when raw but turns off-white after cooking. When canned, it’s the only tuna meat allowed to be labeled “white meat.”

The global supply of albacore tuna mainly comes from Korea, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States. (Seafood Business, 2011)



Frozen: year-round; fresh: year-round, peaking in the fall



Albacore is a heart-healthy protein choice as it is low in fat and cholesterol. The FDA and EPA recommend that nursing moms, moms-to-be, and young children eat no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week, as some canned albacore ("white") tuna may have more mercury than canned “light” (skipjack, yellowfin, and bigeye tuna) tuna. However, mercury levels largely depend on the age and size of tuna when caught, and independent research disclaimer suggests that smaller, younger albacore caught by surface gears generally have lower mercury levels than the larger, longline-caught albacore.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 113 g / 4 oz (fresh)
Calories 150
Protein 31 g
Fat, total 2 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 1 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 45 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 80 mg

North Atlantic Albacore Tuna Table of Nutrition