Pacific Yellowfin Tuna

Pacific Yellowfin Tuna

Thunnus albacares

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Ahi, Kihada

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Hawaii, California, U.S. Pacific Island territories, and the high seas
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Yellowfin tuna off the coast of Venezuela.

Yellowfin tuna off the coast of Venezuela.

LAUNCH GALLERY

Yellowfin tuna is a “highly migratory species” – these fish are found around the world and can travel across an entire ocean basin. Unlike non-migratory species that are only found off our coasts, U.S. fishermen aren’t the only ones fishing for highly migratory species. Fisheries for species such as yellowfin tuna 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.

Yellowfin tuna are very productive and may be more resilient to fishing and respond to management measures more rapidly than species that reproduce more slowly and in smaller numbers. Managers have implemented a number of domestic and international conservation measures to limit catch and fishing effort in the Pacific Ocean and minimize the fisheries’ impacts on other species. U.S. fishermen responsibly harvest yellowfin tuna under these regulations. U.S. fishermen also harvest yellowfin tuna in similarly highly regulated fisheries in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean.

Looking Ahead

In the eastern Pacific, adult yellowfin often swim in association with schools of dolphin. The tuna industry has worked with participating governments to significantly reduce dolphin bycatch in the tuna purse seine fishery. Purse seiners operate under the International Dolphin Conservation Program, a multilateral agreement aimed at reducing and minimizing bycatch of dolphins and undersize tuna. NOAA Fisheries’ Tuna Tracking and Verification Program monitors U.S. production and imports of all frozen and processed tuna products nationwide and verifies any associated dolphin-safe claim. Read more.

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Yellowfin tuna are found near the surface of tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. Yellowfin tuna favor water temperatures between 64 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Larval and juvenile yellowfin tuna stay in surface waters, while older yellowfin tuna are often found in deeper water. Yellowfin tuna are known to gather around drifting flotsam (natural floating debris), fish aggregating devices (FADs), anchored buoys, dolphins, and other large marine animals. Adults also gather in areas with high productivity having abundant phytoplankton and zooplankton and smaller prey.

Yellowfin tuna are highly migratory and travel long distances throughout the warm ocean. They are known to make annual trips to higher latitudes as water temperatures increase with the seasons.

 
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BIOLOGY

Yellowfin tuna grow fast, up to 6 feet long and 400 pounds, and have a somewhat short life span of 6 to 7 years. Most yellowfin tuna are able to reproduce when they reach age 2. They spawn throughout the year in tropical waters and seasonally at higher latitudes. Their peak spawning periods are in spring and fall. Yellowfin are very productive – females can spawn almost daily and release millions of eggs each time they spawn.

Adult yellowfin tuna feed near the top of the food chain on fish, squid, and crustaceans. Fish, seabirds, porpoises, and other animals prey on larval and juvenile tuna; marine mammals, billfish, and sharks feed on adult tuna.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

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. Adult yellowfin tuna can be distinguished from other tunas by its long, bright-yellow dorsal fin and a yellow strip down its side.

 
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OVERVIEW

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) disclaimer regularly assesses the status of the western and central Pacific stock and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) disclaimer assesses the eastern Pacific stock.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

Both the eastern Pacific and the western and central Pacific yellowfin tuna stocks are above their target population levels.

In their 2012 assessment of the eastern Pacific yellowfin stock, the IATTC found that abundance increased during the 1980s and remained relatively constant through 1999. Abundance peaked in 2001 but by 2005 fell back to levels observed in the early 1980s. Abundance has remained at this level and is above the target population level.

The WCPFC last assessed the western and central Pacific stock in 2011. Abundance peaked in the late 1950s, and although it has declined throughout the past few decades, abundance still remains above the target population level.

 
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ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

Scientists at NOAA’s Southwest and Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Centers contribute to research on Pacific tropical tunas such as yellowfin by monitoring U.S. fisheries, conducting stock assessments, and participating in international forums for the assessment of these species.

 
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Harvesting Pacific Yellowfin Tuna

There are two stocks of yellowfin tuna in the Pacific Ocean, one in the western and central Pacific and one in the eastern Pacific. An important part of tuna fisheries in the western and central Pacific, yellowfin tuna is harvested in small-scale artisanal fisheries in Pacific Island and southeast Asian waters as well as by large distant-water longliners and purse seiners operating in equatorial and tropical waters. U.S. commercial fishermen operating in this area mainly use purse seines to harvest yellowfin tuna.

In the eastern Pacific, yellowfin tuna are primarily harvested by purse seiners from the Central and South America. The U.S. purse seine fleet operating in the eastern Pacific is small. Small purse seiners fishing off California for sardine and anchovy sometimes target yellowfin tuna when warm water from the south brings the species within their range, but West Coast–based fishermen no longer harvest large numbers of tropical tunas because U.S. canning facilities have relocated overseas.

Hawaii- and American Samoa–based longliners and U.S. Pacific Islands troll fisheries also harvest yellowfin tuna.

Although none of these fishing gears typically impact habitat, purse seines and longlines sometimes incidentally catch other marine species. Many purse seine fishermen use fish aggregating devices (FADs) to target tunas. 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. However, FADs can also attract non-target and bycatch species including juvenile tunas, sharks, other fish, and occasionally protected species. Bycatch of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna is the most significant issue in the purse seine fishery. In the eastern Pacific and western and central Pacific, purse seiners are prohibited from fishing in certain areas and with FADs at certain times of the year to regulate fishing effort and reduce bycatch of juvenile tunas. Fishermen are also required to retain all tuna caught in the purse seine fishery. This measure is partly intended to encourage fishermen to target larger, more profitable adult tunas, rather than juvenile tunas (they are prohibited from discarding juvenile tunas to make room in their fish holds).

Interactions with protected species such as sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds in these fisheries are rare and survival rates are estimated to be high. Management restricts the type of fishing gear that can be used and prohibits fishing in certain areas to minimize impacts on protected species. In addition, longline fishermen are trained in safe handling and release techniques for sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals and carry and use specific equipment for handling and releasing these animals. Scientists and managers continue to monitor bycatch in these fisheries through logbooks and fishery observer programs.

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Management

Although NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management councils manage our domestic yellowfin tuna fisheries, highly migratory species such as yellowfin tuna require cooperative international management to ensure they are sustainable.

Who’s in charge? 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. NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific and Western Pacific Fishery Management Councils collaboratively manage our domestic yellowfin tuna fisheries. Domestic management is guided by our participation in the two Commissions. Terms of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty also apply to U.S. purse seine vessels operating throughout the western and central Pacific. Purse seiners in the eastern Pacific also operate under the International Dolphin Conservation Program, a multilateral agreement aimed at reducing and minimizing bycatch of dolphins and undersize tuna.

Current management:

Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species.

  • Permitting, logbook, and monitoring requirements.
  • Gear and time/area restrictions, including a longline exclusion zone within 200 miles of the U.S. West Coast.
  • Mandatory annual protected species workshops for all West Coast–based longline vessel owners and operators.
  • Longline vessels and large purse seine vessels on the U.S. West Coast are required to have 100 percent observer coverage. All other purse seine vessels must carry a fishery observer, if requested by NOAA Fisheries.

Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific

  • Permitting, logbook, and monitoring requirements.
  • Gear restrictions and operational requirements to minimize bycatch and potential gear conflicts among different fisheries.
  • Limited entry programs for the Hawaii- and American Samoa–based longline fisheries, limiting the number and size of vessels that can participate in the fishery.
  • Longline prohibited fishing 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 (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 interactions with sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
  • Mandatory annual protected species workshops for all longline vessel owners and operators.

The United States has implemented the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s disclaimer conservation and management measures for yellowfin tuna, including:

  • Purse seine closures in the eastern Pacific.
  • Requirement for vessels to retain all tuna caught in the purse seine fishery. This requirement is in place to encourage fishermen to target larger, more profitable adult tunas, rather than juvenile tunas (they are prohibited from discarding juvenile tunas to make room in their fish holds). If adult tunas are targeted, the fishery is more sustainable because these mature fish have probably had a chance to reproduce.

The United States has also implemented conservation and management measures for yellowfin tuna recommended by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission: disclaimer

  • Limits on the number of days purse seiners can spend fishing.
  • Limits on catch of yellowfin tuna in the longline fishery.
  • Seasonal closure of the purse seine fishery that uses fish aggregating devices in the western and central Pacific.
  • Requirement for vessels to retain tuna species (for the same reason as above).

Under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, U.S. purse seine vessels operating throughout the western and central Pacific Ocean must be registered and are monitored through logbooks, cannery landing receipts, national surveillance activities, observers, and port sampling.

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Annual Harvest

U.S. harvest of yellowfin tuna in the Pacific makes up only a small percentage of the yellowfin tuna harvested worldwide. In 2012, Hawaii fishermen landed 3.6 million pounds of yellowfin tuna. American Samoa fishermen landed nearly 836,867 pounds of yellowfin tuna. Just more than 3,000 pounds of yellowfin tuna were landed in California.

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Economy

2012 landings in Hawaii were valued at more than $13 million dollars, and landings in American Samoa were worth more than $800,000. Catch from California was worth approximately $13,252. 

U.S. purse seine catch of yellowfin tuna from the western and central Pacific is mainly sent to canneries in American Samoa or other countries. The yellowfin catch from Hawaii- and American Samoa–based longliners is mostly sold for the fresh fish and sashimi market in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. The small amount of yellowfin caught off California is consumed by the domestic market or is exported – fresh tuna goes to Japan and the Philippines and frozen tuna goes to Indonesia for processing.

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RECREATIONAL

Recreational anglers fish for yellowfin tuna with troll, rod and reel, and handline gear and sometimes by free-diving with spear guns. Off California, anglers must be licensed and can only possess 10 yellowfin tuna per day. Recreational charter boats must keep logbooks of their catch. There are no federal regulations for recreational fishing off Hawaii and U.S. Pacific Island territories; however, local rules may apply.

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OVERVIEW

Yellowfin tuna has a mild, meaty flavor. It’s more flavorful than albacore, but leaner than bluefin. The meat is bright red when raw and 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.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Year-round.

 
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NUTRITION

Yellowfin tuna is low in saturated fat and sodium and is a very good source of protein, thiamin, selenium, vitamin B6, and omega-3s.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 108
Protein 23.38 g
Fat, total 0.95 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.235 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 45 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 37 mg

Pacific Yellowfin Tuna Table of Nutrition

 
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