Atlantic Yellowfin Tuna

Atlantic Albacore Tuna

Thunnus albacares


    Tuna, Ahi


    U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Texas



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Yellowfin tuna off the coast of Venezuela

Yellowfin tuna off the coast of Venezuela.


Yellowfin tuna are found in tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. They’re highly migratory, capable of swimming across an entire ocean (and across international boundaries). Unlike non-migratory species that are only found off U.S. coasts, we’re not the only ones fishing for highly-migratory species such as yellowfin tuna. Fisheries for these species require both strong domestic management and international cooperation to ensure the resource is abundant and global harvests are sustainable. The United States is an active member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and negotiates with other member nations to enhance international management of yellowfin tuna (along with other tunas, billfish, and sharks).

Yellowfin tuna are the top tropical tuna harvested by U.S. fishermen in the Atlantic. More than half of this catch comes from our longline fisheries, which operate in the northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. Longlines are often negatively portrayed for their potential to unintentionally catch sea turtles and marine mammals. However, in U.S. longline fisheries, fishermen abide by a number of measures that reduce the fisheries’ impacts on other species. These measures include mandatory use of special hooks and baits to reduce bycatch of depleted bluefin tuna, billfish, and sea turtles. When fishermen do accidentally hook a protected species, they carry gear and are trained in handling techniques to dehook species and safely return them to the water. Scientists and managers regularly monitor bycatch in these fisheries and review data for appropriate action as necessary, ensuring U.S. fishermen continue to responsibly harvest yellowfin tuna. U.S. fishermen also harvest yellowfin tuna in similarly highly regulated fisheries in the Pacific (see Pacific yellowfin tuna).

Looking Ahead

U.S. fishermen harvest a relatively small percentage of the total worldwide harvest of yellowfin in the Atlantic, but this fishery is very important to the United States. The bulk of the fishery in the Atlantic takes place off the coast of West Africa, and that product is typically consumed in Europe and Asia. As a result, it is important for the United States to fully engage in ICCAT to ensure all nations fishing for Atlantic yellowfin do so sustainably. In 2011, ICCAT adopted new yellowfin tuna management standards that reduced the catch of small yellowfin off of West Africa and brought other fishing nations closer to U.S. standards. In 2013, ICCAT expanded reporting requirements for tropical tuna fisheries using fish aggregating devices (FADs), which can catch juvenile yellowfin tuna. FADs are natural floating or man-made objects that are found or placed on or near the ocean surface and used to attract schooling fish underneath. This measure is expected to improve data collection and allow ICCAT scientists to better characterize the fishing effort associated with FAD fishing.



Yellowfin tuna are found near the surface of tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. They are highly migratory and can swim across an entire ocean. Juvenile yellowfin tuna travel in schools with skipjack and juvenile bigeye tuna.



Yellowfin tuna grow fairly fast, up to 400 pounds, and have a somewhat short life span of about 7 years. Most yellowfin tuna are able to reproduce when they reach age 2 or 3. In the western Atlantic, they spawn from May to August in the Gulf of Mexico and from July to November in the southeastern Caribbean. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, they spawn from October to March in the Gulf of Guinea and from April to June off Senegal. Females spawn about once every 3 days during the spawning season. They produce an average of 1 million to 4 million eggs each time they spawn.

Yellowfin tuna feed near the top of the food chain on fish, squid, and crustaceans. They are also prey for top predators such as sharks and large fish.



Yellowfin tuna are a torpedo-shaped fish. They’re metallic dark blue on the back and upper sides, and change from yellow to silver on the belly. True to their name, their dorsal and anal fins and finlets are bright yellow.

Different species of tunas can be difficult to distinguish – they’re similar in shape and are often caught together. Yellowfin tuna can be distinguished from other tunas by its long, bright-yellow dorsal fin and a yellow strip down its side. It’s also more slender than bluefin tuna.



The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas’ (ICCAT) scientific committee assesses the abundance of Atlantic yellowfin tuna and evaluates the sustainability of current and proposed harvest practices. Managers use the scientific information from these assessments to make management recommendations. They last assessed yellowfin tuna in 2011.



Based on the latest stock assessment (2011), Atlantic yellowfin tuna are not overfished. Scientists believe the stock is about 15 percent below the target level. The stock is considered overfished based on the ICCAT definition because ICCAT does not set different levels for the target population level and the overfished level. This means that stocks that are not at the target population level are also regarded as overfished by ICCAT. NOAA Fisheries sets the overfished level at 70 percent of the population level, so according to their definition, the stock is not overfished. Based on the latest stock assessment (2011), Atlantic yellowfin tuna are not subject to overfishing.



NOAA Fisheries scientists continue to research ways to improve the methods used to assess the yellowfin population. They’re working with researchers at Texas A&M University to tag yellowfin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico to evaluate the species’ habitat use. In addition, NOAA Fisheries scientists will work with ICCAT in its upcoming large-scale tagging project to learn more about the lifecycle and migration patterns of Atlantic yellowfin and other Atlantic tropical tunas.


Harvesting Yellowfin Tuna

U.S. commercial fishermen primarily use longline, rod and reel, and handline gear to harvest Atlantic yellowfin tuna. Pelagic longline gear and handgear (handline and rod and reel) used to catch yellowfin tuna have no impact on habitat because they’re used in the water column and don’t come into contact with the ocean floor. Handgear is very selective so bycatch is minimal, but pelagic longlines can incidentally catch other fish and protected species such as marine mammals and sea turtles. U.S. pelagic longline fishermen follow a number of regulations to prevent bycatch (see Current Domestic Management for details).

Several other nations also harvest yellowfin tuna in the Atlantic, primarily using purse seine and bait boat gear in waters off West Africa. Juvenile yellowfin tuna school with skipjack and juvenile bigeye tuna, mainly in surface waters. These schools are strongly attracted to floating objects or fish aggregating devices (FADs), increasing their vulnerability to surface fishing gears. FADs are natural floating or man-made objects that are found or placed on or near the ocean surface and used to attract schooling fish underneath. Unlike yellowfin tuna in the eastern Pacific, schools of Atlantic yellowfin tuna are not typically found in association with marine mammals.



Who’s in charge? With highly migratory species such as yellowfin tuna, management is complicated because these species migrate thousands of miles across oceans and international boundaries and are fished by many nations. Effective conservation and management requires international cooperation as well as strong domestic management. With Atlantic yellowfin tuna, NOAA Fisheries’ Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division sets regulations for the U.S. fishery based on conservation and management recommendations from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and consistent with applicable U.S. laws.

Current management:
International: The United States has implemented several management measures consistent with ICCAT recommendations to limit fishing effort and prevent overfishing. In 1999, NOAA Fisheries created a limited access program for the pelagic longline fishery for Atlantic tunas and limited the amount of yellowfin that recreational fishermen can keep. The United States has also maintained its minimum size limit for yellowfin of 27 inches, which is greater than the minimum size formerly recommended by ICCAT (before the organization repealed their recommendation). This minimum size limit helps prevent harvest of juvenile yellowfin. In 2011, ICCAT set an annual “Total Allowable Catch” of 110,000 metric tons of yellowfin tuna for 2012 and subsequent years. This catch limit will continue to be in place unless scientific advice indicates a change is necessary. If the total yellowfin catch in any year exceeds the limit, ICCAT will review the relevant conservation and management measures. ICCAT also expanded a time/area closure in the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa to protect young bigeye and yellowfin tunas and to strengthen monitoring and control measures in the fishery, including those using FADs. This helps protect U.S. fishermen because, if allowed to survive, juvenile yellowfin in the Gulf of Guinea will have the opportunity to swim across the Atlantic and be caught in U.S. fisheries as adults.

Domestic: Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan
Measures taken by NOAA Fisheries to sustainably manage this fishery include:

  • Fishermen must have a permit to harvest yellowfin tuna. Atlantic tunas may be sold only by fishermen permitted for commercial fisheries and only to permitted dealers.
  • Gear restrictions and seasonal/area closures are used to reduce bycatch.
  • Yellowfin tuna must be a minimum of 27 inches long to be harvested in both commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Federal management for Atlantic tunas applies 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.

NOAA Fisheries has taken the following additional measures to prevent bycatch and sustainably manage this fishery. Fishermen are:

  • Required to 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.
  • Trained to use special techniques to safely dehook and release any incidentally caught turtles.
  • Required to stop fishing and move 1 nautical mile if they encounter a protected species.
  • Required to protect pilot whales and Risso's dolphins, when fishing in the Mid-Atlantic Bight by limiting the length of their lines to 20 nautical miles and posting 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.
  • Required to use weak hooks in the Gulf of Mexico to reduce incidental catch of bluefin tuna and are prohibited from using live bait to reduce bycatch of billfish.
  • Restricted from areas of the Gulf of Mexico to reduce bycatch of all species.
  • Required to carry vessel monitoring systems (satellite technology) onboard their boats to enforce these closures.
  • Required to carry at-sea fisheries observers upon request. NOAA Fisheries reviews observer data to monitor protected species interactions and takes appropriate action as necessary.

Annual Harvest

Yellowfin tuna is the principal species of tropical tuna landed by U.S. fisheries in the western North Atlantic. Total estimated U.S. landings increased to 4,109 metric tons in 2012, from the 2011 landings estimate of 3,010 metric tons. A high proportion of these landings are rod and reel catches by recreational anglers. The majority of U.S. commercial landings come from the longline fleet operating in the northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean.

U.S. landings of Atlantic yellowfin tuna represent a small percentage of the total international landings of Atlantic yellowfin tuna. In 2012, the United States contributed about 4 percent of the total Atlantic yellowfin tuna landings.



The average ex-vessel prices (the price fishermen receive for their catch) for yellowfin tuna increased in 2012 in all regions except for the Gulf of Mexico region, which slightly decreased. From 2005 to 2012, the average ex-vessel price of yellowfin tuna increased 56 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 totaled more than $18 million.



Recreational fishing for highly migratory species such as yellowfin tuna provides significant economic benefits to coastal communities through individual angler expenditures, recreational charters, tournaments, and the shoreside businesses that support those activities. Recreational fishermen enjoy catching yellowfin tuna because they’re large (up to 400 pounds), they fight hard, and they are delicious. Recreational fishermen must have a permit to catch yellowfin tuna. They may only keep three yellowfin tuna larger than 27 inches per person per day. However, catch, tag and release is allowed.



Yellowfin tuna has a mild, meaty flavor. It’s more flavorful than albacore, but leaner than bluefin. The meat is bright red when raw but turns brown to grayish-tan when cooked. The meat is firm and moist, with large flakes.

Yellowfin tuna can be found fresh, frozen, or canned as light-meat tuna (often blended with skipjack tuna). Yellowfin tuna is often served raw as sashimi and in sushi.






Yellowfin is low in saturated fat and sodium and is a very good source of protein, thiamin, selenium, and vitamin B6.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 109
Protein 24.4 g
Fat, total 0.49 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.172 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 39 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 45 mg

Atlantic Yellowfin Tuna Table of Nutrition