Pacific Albacore Tuna

Image of Pacific Albacore Tuna

Thunnus alalunga

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Albacore, Germon, Longfinned tuna, Albecor, Ahipalaha, Tombo

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Washington to California, Hawaii, American Samoa, and on the high seas
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Albacore on the line.

Albacore tuna off the coast of Venezuela.

LAUNCH GALLERY

Albacore tuna is a “highly migratory species” – these fish are found around the world and can travel across an entire ocean. Unlike non-migratory species that are found only off our coasts, U.S. fishermen are not the only ones fishing for highly migratory species. Fisheries for species such as albacore require cooperative international management to ensure the resource is abundant and global harvests are sustainable. The United States is a member of the organizations responsible for the international conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Pacific Ocean. Domestic management is guided by our participation in these organizations, and U.S. fishermen responsibly harvest albacore tuna in both U.S. and international waters.

Most of the albacore harvested in U.S. fisheries comes from the Pacific, mainly from waters off the U.S. West Coast and adjacent high seas. Fishermen have been harvesting this “white-meat” tuna off the West Coast for more than 100 years. Because the last of the canneries in California have closed and albacore populations have shifted northward with changing oceanographic conditions, the bulk of the albacore catch now comes from Oregon and Washington. Most commercial fishermen use either troll or pole-and-line (bait boat) gear to harvest albacore and generally fish from mid-June to October, depending on their location. Today, catches of albacore make up the majority of the total commercial tuna harvest off the West Coast. The catch is canned in boutique and major canneries in Oregon and Washington, some is sold locally (some fishermen sell direct to the public), and some is shipped to major canneries outside Oregon and Washington for processing.

In American Samoa and Hawaii-based fisheries, nearly all albacore is harvested with longline gear. Longline vessels in American Samoa almost exclusively target albacore, which is canned locally. Longline vessels from Hawaii harvest albacore while targeting swordfish and other tunas. The Hawaii longline fisheries do not freeze their catch, which is instead sold in the fresh fish markets in Hawaii, Japan, and the U.S. mainland.

Looking Ahead

One of the major challenges for management is continuing to pursue precautionary management internationally, given the most recent stock assessment indicated that albacore tuna is abundant. One aspect of this will be to choose and agree upon appropriate biological reference points (i.e., sustainable population level and harvest rate) for use in future stock assessments and for management purposes.

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Albacore tuna are found in tropical and warm temperate waters of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Temperature is a major factor in determining where Pacific albacore live. Juveniles are often found near oceanic fronts or temperate discontinuities; adults are found in depths of at least 1,250 feet. They also explore deeper waters in search of prey.

Albacore tuna are a highly migratory species, swimming long distances throughout the ocean. Similarly sized albacore travel together in schools that can be up to 19 miles wide. North Pacific albacore, particularly juveniles (2–4 years old), typically begin their expansive migration in the spring and early summer in waters off Japan. They move into inshore waters off the U.S. Pacific coast by late summer, then spend late fall and winter in the western Pacific Ocean. The timing and distance of their migrations in a given year depend on oceanic conditions. Less is known about the movements of albacore in the South Pacific Ocean – juveniles move southward from the tropics when they are about a foot long, and then eastward to about 130 degrees West. When the fish are mature, they return to tropical and subtropical waters to spawn.

 
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BIOLOGY

Albacore tuna grow fast at first but more slowly with age, up to almost 80 pounds and about 47 inches long. They’re able to reproduce when they reach 5 to 6 years old and live 10 to 12 years. North Pacific albacore spawn between March and July in tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific. Females broadcast their eggs near the surface, where they’re fertilized. Depending on their size, females release between 800,000 and 2.6 million eggs every time they spawn.

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. They lack the structures needed to pump oxygen-rich water over their gills so, in order to breathe, they must constantly swim with their mouths open.

Albacore are top carnivores, preying on schooling stocks such as sardine, anchovy, and squid. They eat an enormous amount of food to fuel their high metabolism, sometimes consuming as much as 25 percent of their own weight every day. Larger species of billfish, tuna, and sharks eat albacore.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

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 at least half the length of their body. The edge of the tail fin is white.

 
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OVERVIEW

Pacific albacore are divided into two separate stocks, the North Pacific and the South Pacific stock. Scientists from NOAA’s Southwest and Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Centers participate in the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) disclaimer, which assesses the North Pacific albacore stock. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) disclaimer conducts stock assessments of the South Pacific albacore stock. The United States reviews and critiques these assessments as a member of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission disclaimer.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

Scientists estimate that both the North and South Pacific albacore stocks are above target population levels. They last assessed North Pacific albacore in 2011 and the stock was not overfished or subject to overfishing. South Pacific albacore was most recently assessed in 2012 and, although there were uncertainties in the assessment, scientists are reasonably certain the stock was above target levels.

 
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ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

Southwest Fisheries Science Center scientists are working with the American Fishermen’s Research Foundation on monitoring programs and other research efforts to improve knowledge of the biology and migration of North Pacific albacore in the waters off the U.S. Pacific coast.

 
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Harvesting Pacific Albacore Tuna

Albacore is a highly migratory species – they swim throughout large areas of the ocean and are harvested by many nations with different types of fishing gear. In the Pacific, albacore are roughly divided at the equator into North and South Pacific stocks. U.S. West Coast–based commercial albacore fisheries primarily target the North Pacific stock, mainly using troll and pole-and-line (bait boat) gear. Longline vessels from Hawaii also harvest North Pacific albacore while targeting swordfish and other tunas. U.S. longline vessels based in American Samoa target the South Pacific stock.

Bycatch in U.S. albacore fisheries is low. Based on limited observer data, troll and pole-and-line (bait boat) gears have insignificant levels of bycatch. Interactions with sea turtles can occur in longline fisheries, but extensive observer coverage in U.S. fisheries indicates these interactions are rare. U.S. longline fishermen are required to use specific tools and handling techniques to reduce the effects of bycatch. Several other management measures are in place, such as gear modifications and time-area closures, to limit and prevent interactions between longline gear and other species. NOAA Fisheries continues to research additional ways to prevent bycatch.

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Management

Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific and Western Pacific Fishery Management Councils collaborate in the management of our domestic albacore fisheries, but fisheries for highly migratory species such as albacore require cooperative international management to ensure they are sustainable. The United States is a member of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission disclaimer and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, disclaimer both of which are responsible for the international conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Pacific Ocean. Domestic management is guided by our participation in the international commissions. The United States and Canada also have a treaty in place that allows for an agreed number of both nations’ vessels to fish for the North Pacific stock of albacore in the other nation’s waters, as well as access to each other’s ports for landing catches.

Current international management: Both international commissions have adopted conservation and management measures calling for members to limit fishing effort in their Pacific albacore fisheries.

Current domestic management: Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species.

  • Requires commercial fishermen to obtain a permit from NOAA Fisheries and maintain logbooks documenting their catch.
  • Prohibits the use of longline gear from April 1 to May 31 in specific areas, and includes numerous measures to minimize impacts of longline gear on protected resources, including sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds.

Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific

  • Permitting, logbook, and monitoring requirements.
  • Gear restrictions and operational requirements to minimize bycatch.
  • Limited entry permit programs for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries to control the number of vessels fishing.
  • Longline fishing prohibited areas around the Main Hawaiian Islands, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, and reduce potential gear conflicts and localized stock depletion (when a large quantity of fish are removed from an area). These zones are enforced through NOAA Fisheries vessel monitoring system (VMS). Longline boats must be equipped with a satellite transponder that provides real-time position updates and tracks vessel movements.
  • Hawaii and American Samoa-based longline vessels must carry onboard observers when requested by NOAA Fisheries, in part to record any interactions with sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
  • Mandatory annual protected species workshops for all longline vessel owners and operators.

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Annual Harvest

Off the West Coast, commercial fishermen harvested more than 30 million pounds of albacore in 2012. The majority is landed in Washington and Oregon.

More than 7 million pounds of albacore were landed in American Samoa in 2012. In Hawaii, commercial fishermen harvested more than 2 million pounds of albacore in 2012.

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Economy

Albacore fisheries are highly valuable – in 2012, the total harvest off the West Coast (including California, Oregon and Washington) was worth more than $45 million. Both foreign and domestic demand for albacore products is high. Many fishermen, particularly off Oregon, are marketing their catches to the public directly from their boats to improve the value of their albacore.

Most American Samoa catch is canned locally. Hawaii albacore is mostly sold fresh.

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RECREATIONAL

North Pacific albacore are a popular and important recreational species. Off the West Coast, recreational charter vessels are required to keep logbooks to document their catch. Regulations limit sport catch of albacore to 10 fish per day in U.S. federal waters south of Point Conception to the Mexican border and to 25 fish per day north of Point Conception to the Oregon border. State regulations in Oregon limit sport catch to 25 fish per day. Washington is contemplating state regulations.

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OVERVIEW

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, though it is one of the fattiest species, with more omega-3 than the rest of the tunas. 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.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Frozen: year-round; fresh: late spring to late fall.

 
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NUTRITION

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 only eat up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week, as some canned albacore ("white") tuna may have more mercury than canned “light” tuna (skipjack, yellowfin, and bigeye tuna). However, mercury levels largely depend on the age and size of tuna when caught, and independent research suggests that smaller, younger albacore caught with troll and pole-and-line gear generally have lower mercury levels than the larger, longline-caught albacore.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 113 g (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

Pacific Albacore Tuna Table of Nutrition

 
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