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 management standards that reduce the catch of small yellowfin off of West Africa and bring other fishing nations closer to U.S. standards.
- Greater amberjack
- Ocean perch
- Sea Bass
- Turbot (Greenland)
Atlantic Yellowfin Tuna
ALSO KNOWN AS:
U.S. wild-caught from Massachusetts to Texas
- FISHING RATE
- HABITAT IMPACTS
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Yellowfin tuna off the coast of Venezuela.LAUNCH GALLERY
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 borders). Unlike non-migratory species that are only found off our coasts, we’re not the only ones fishing for 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 is 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).
LOCATION & HABITAT
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 spawning season. They produce an average of 1 million to 4 million eggs.
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.
Tunas are difficult to distinguish – they’re similar in shape and are often caught together. Yellowfin 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.
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.
The latest stock assessment (2011) used two different models to determine current abundance of the Atlantic yellowfin tuna stock. The recent trends through 2010 are uncertain, with one model indicating increasing fishing rates and decline in abundance over the past several years, and another model indicating the opposite. Scientists believe current stock levels are about 15 percent below the target stock size. .
NOAA Fisheries scientists continue to research how to improve the methods used to assess the yellowfin population. They’re also 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. 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. fishermen fishing with 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 a better chance at survival when captured and released. Fishermen are trained to use special techniques to safely dehook and disentangle turtles if they are accidentally caught.
- They must 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 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.
- To reduce bycatch of billfish in the Gulf of Mexico, longline fishermen must use weak hooks to reduce accidental catch of bluefin tuna and may not use live bait.
- Large areas of the Gulf of Mexico are also closed to longline fishing to reduce bycatch, primarily billfish.
- Longline fishermen must carry vessel monitoring systems (satellite technology) onboard their boats so they’re aware of area 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, as necessary.
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. 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 borders and are fished by many nations. Effective conservation and management of these types of resources require 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), consistent with applicable U.S. laws
Domestic: Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan
- 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 (see “Harvesting yellowfin tuna”).
- 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.
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 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 Africa to protect young bigeye and yellowfin tunas and to strengthen monitoring and control measures in the fishery, including those regarding 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 captured in U.S. fisheries as adults.
Yellowfin tuna is the principal species of tropical tuna landed by U.S. fisheries in the western North Atlantic. Total estimated U.S. landings slightly decreased to 2,648 metric tons in 2010, from the 2009 landings estimate of 2,788 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 2010, the United States contributed about 2.5 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 2010 in all regions except for the northeast region, which slightly decreased. From 2003 to 2010, the average ex-vessel price of yellowfin tuna increased 67.6 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 over $9.4 million.
In addition, recreational fishing for highly migratory species such as yellowfin 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 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 catch and keep yellowfin tuna larger than 27 inches and may only keep three yellowfin per person per day.
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 and a bit pinker than canned albacore). Yellowfin tuna is often served raw as sashimi and in sushi. (Seafood Business, 2011)
Yellowfin is low in saturated fat and sodium and is a very good source of protein, thiamin, selenium, and vitamin B6.
|Serving Weight||100 g (raw)|
|Fat, total||0.49 g|
|Saturated fatty acids, total||0.172 g|
|Sugars, total||0 g|
|Fiber, total dietary||0 g|
Atlantic Yellowfin Tuna Table of Nutrition