Western Atlantic Skipjack Tuna

Western Atlantic Skipjack Tuna

Katsuwonus pelamis


    Tuna, Ocean Bonito, Lesser Tuna, Aku


    U.S. wild-caught from New York to Florida



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School of skipjack tuna

School of skipjack tuna.


Skipjack tuna is a highly migratory species – these fish are found around the world and can travel long distances. Unlike non-migratory species found only off our coasts, U.S. fishermen aren’t the only ones fishing for skipjack tuna. Fisheries for this species require cooperative international management to ensure the resource is abundant and global harvests are sustainable. While NOAA Fisheries is responsible for managing our domestic fisheries for skipjack tuna in the western Atlantic, the United States is also a member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) disclaimer and negotiates with other member nations to enhance international management of skipjack tuna (along with other tunas, billfish, and sharks). ICCAT periodically monitors the abundance of Atlantic skipjack tuna. They evaluate the sustainability of current and proposed harvest practices and recommend management measures, if necessary.

Skipjack tuna isn’t a major focus of U.S. commercial tuna fisheries in the western Atlantic – annual skipjack harvests only make up about 1 percent of all of the Atlantic tunas brought to port by U.S. fishermen, and only a fraction of a percent of the Atlantic skipjack tuna harvested worldwide. Almost all of the U.S. commercial harvest of skipjack tuna comes from the Pacific. Much of it is exported to foreign markets. Skipjack are primarily sold as “canned light tuna” but are also sold fresh and frozen. The United States imports most of the fresh and frozen skipjack tuna we eat, mainly from China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Panama. Most imports of canned tuna (not species-specific) come from Thailand, followed by Vietnam, Ecuador, and the Philippines.

Looking Ahead

Skipjack often school around floating objects, including fish aggregating devices (FADs) intentionally placed in the water to attract fish. Foreign purse seiners and baitboats have used FADs extensively in the Atlantic since the early 1990s to catch skipjack, primarily off the coast of West Africa. Researchers have found that the increasing use of FADs has changed the species composition of tuna catches, resulting in a higher capture rate of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna for vessels targeting skipjack. The increased presence of FADs may also have an impact on the biology and ecology of skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna. Also, sea turtles and marine mammals can become entangled in nets, ropes, and lines that are used in the FADs.

The total catch of skipjack tuna estimated for 2012 in the entire Atlantic Ocean reached a historic record of 241,000 metric tons, a considerable increase over the average catch of the previous five years (168,000 metric tons). This estimate includes “faux poisson” or “false fish” which are fish not accepted by canneries, usually due to small size or condition, which are then sold to local buyers. Monitoring and official reporting of small tuna sold as “faux poissons” is challenging, but monitoring has improved through a coordinated approach that allows ICCAT to properly account for these catches. This improves the quality of the basic catch and size data available for assessments.




Skipjack tuna are found in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters of all oceans. In the western Atlantic, skipjack is found from Massachusetts to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Skipjack tuna are a pelagic species – they mostly live in the open ocean, but they may spend part of their life in nearshore waters. They can be found in surface waters and to depths of 850 feet during the day and generally stay near the surface at night.

Skipjack tuna is a highly migratory species, swimming long distances to feed and reproduce. They swim in schools, especially around floating objects or hydrographic features such as convergence zones, boundaries between cold and warm water masses, and upwelling areas, where dense, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water is pushed toward the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water.



Like other tropical tunas, skipjack tuna grow fast, up to over 3 feet and 40 pounds, and have a relatively short life span, around 7 years. In the eastern Atlantic, skipjack are able to reproduce when they’re a year old. They spawn throughout the year in tropical waters and seasonally (spring to early fall) in subtropical areas. Depending on their size, females can produce between 100,000 and 2 million eggs per year. Skipjack spawn more than once a season, as often as every 1.18 days. Once fertilized, the eggs hatch in about 1 day (depending on temperature).

Skipjack tuna are opportunistic feeders, preying on a variety of fish (e.g., herrings), crustaceans, cephalopods, and mollusks. Cannibalism is also common. Large pelagic fishes such as billfish, sharks, and other large tunas prey on skipjack tuna.



Skipjack tuna do not have scales except on the corselet (a band of large, thick scales behind the head) and the faint lateral line running lengthwise down each side of the fish. Their back is dark purplish blue, and their lower sides and belly are silvery with 4 to 6 conspicuous longitudinal dark bands, which may look like continuous lines of dark blotches.



The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) assesses the abundance of Atlantic skipjack tuna and evaluates the sustainability of current and proposed harvest practices. They use the scientific information from these assessments to make management recommendations. They last assessed skipjack tuna in 2008.



It’s difficult to assess the abundance of skipjack tuna due to its unique biological and fishery characteristics. Various assessment methods are used for skipjack tuna to overcome these difficulties, and several fishery indicators are analyzed for evidence of changes in the state of the stock over time. Based on the most recent stock assessment (2008), the western Atlantic skipjack tuna stock is not overfished.


Harvesting Skipjack Tuna

In the Atlantic, U.S. commercial fishermen mainly use handgear to harvest skipjack tuna. Handgear includes rod and reel and handline gear, which consists of a mainline with no more than two hooks attached that is retrieved by hand. Handgear is highly selective and does not contact the ocean floor.

Several other nations also harvest skipjack tuna in the Atlantic (primarily in the East Atlantic) using bait boat gear or purse seines.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division sets regulations for the U.S. fishery. However, because Atlantic skipjack tuna move through large areas of the Atlantic Ocean and are fished by many nations, management by the United States alone is not enough to ensure that harvests are sustainable in the long term. The United States participates in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) disclaimer, to enhance tuna management worldwide. NOAA Fisheries sets regulations for the U.S. western Atlantic skipjack tuna fishery based on our science as well as conservation and management measures adopted by ICCAT.

Current management:
Domestic: Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan

  • Commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest skipjack.
  • Gear restrictions.
  • 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.

International: No specific ICCAT management measures currently apply to skipjack tuna. In 2011, ICCAT adopted a measure for bigeye and yellowfin tuna that imposed an expanded time/area closure in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa to protect young bigeye and yellowfin tunas and to strengthen monitoring and control measures in the fishery, including those regarding fish aggregating devices (FADs). These measures benefit skipjack as well as yellowfin and bigeye tuna, and help U.S. fishermen because, if allowed to survive, juvenile tunas in the Gulf of Guinea will have the opportunity to swim across the Atlantic and be captured in U.S. fisheries as adults. In 2013, ICCAT adopted a measure to expand reporting requirements for tropical tuna fisheries using FADs. The measure will improve data collection and allow ICCAT scientists to better characterize the fishing effort associated with FAD fishing.


Annual Harvest

Skipjack tuna are caught by U.S. vessels in the western North Atlantic but are only a minor component of total U.S. tuna landings and a very small percentage of the total international landings of western Atlantic skipjack tuna. In 2012, the United States contributed about 0.3 percent of the total western Atlantic skipjack landings and 0.05 percent of total Atlantic skipjack landings.



The U.S. average ex-vessel price (the price fishermen receive for their catch) of skipjack tuna decreased from 2005 to 2012 by 9 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 2012, annual ex-vessel revenues for the fishery were around $18,949.



U.S. recreational fishermen account for more of the total catch of skipjack tuna in the western Atlantic than commercial fisheries. Recreational fishermen must have a permit to fish for skipjack tuna.

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



Skipjack are primarily sold as “canned light tuna” (often packed along with yellowfin tuna) but are also sold fresh and frozen. When raw, good-quality skipjack meat is deep red. Smaller fish are lighter red. Cooked skipjack becomes light gray. Skipjack has the most pronounced taste of all of the tropical tunas.

The United States imports most of the fresh and frozen skipjack tuna we eat, mainly from China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Panama. Most imports of canned tuna (of all species) come from Thailand, followed by Vietnam, Ecuador, and the Philippines.



Frozen and canned year-round; fresh in late summer through early fall



Skipjack is an excellent source of low-fat protein.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 103
Protein 22.00 g
Fat, total 1.01 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.328 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 47 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 37 mg

Western Atlantic Skipjack Tuna Table of Nutrition



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