navigation

Pacific Yellowfin Tuna

Thunnus albacares

Pacific Yellowfin Tuna

Also Known As

  • Ahi
  • Kihada

U.S. wild-caught Pacific yellowfin tuna is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population levels.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gear used to catch Pacific yellowfin tuna rarely contacts the seafloor so habitat impacts are minimal.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

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

  • Taste

    Yellowfin tuna has a mild, meaty flavor. It’s more flavorful than albacore, but leaner than bluefin.

  • Texture

    The meat is firm and moist, with large flakes.

  • Color

    Meat is bright red when raw and turns brown to grayish-tan when cooked. 

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific yellowfin tuna fishery on the West Coast.
  • Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species:
    • Fishermen are required to have permits and to record their catch in logbooks.
    • Gear restrictions and operational requirements are in place to minimize bycatch.
    • Large purse seine vessels that fish for tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean are required to have 100 percent observer coverage.
    • All other commercial vessels based on the U.S. West Coast must carry a fishery observer, if requested by NOAA Fisheries.
    • Longline fishing is prohibited within 200 miles of the U.S. West Coast.
    • Annual training in safe handling and release techniques for protected species is required and all vessels must carry and use specific equipment for handling and releasing these animals.
  • NOAA Fisheries and Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Pacific yellowfin tuna fishery in the Pacific Islands.
  • Managed under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific:
    • Fishermen are required to have permits and to record catch in logbooks.
    • Gear restrictions and monitoring requirements are in place to minimize bycatch and potential gear conflicts between different fisheries.
    • A limit on the number of permits for Hawaii and American Samoa longline fisheries controls participation in the fishery.
    • Longline fishing is prohibited in some areas to protect endangered Hawaiian monk seals, reduce conflicts between fishermen, and prevent localized stock depletion (when a large number of fish are removed from an area).
    • These areas are enforced through NOAA Fisheries’ vessel monitoring system program (longline boats must be equipped with a satellite transponder that provides real-time position updates and tracks vessel movements).
    • Hawaii-based 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.
    • Annual training in safe handling and release techniques for protected species is required and all vessels must carry and use specific equipment for handling and releasing these animals.
  • Management of highly migratory species, like Pacific yellowfin tuna, is complicated because the species migrate thousands of miles across international boundaries and are fished by many nations.
  • Effective conservation and management of this resource requires international cooperation as well as strong domestic management.
  • Two international organizations, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), manage this fishery internationally.  Working with the U.S. Department of State, NOAA Fisheries domestically implements the IATTC and WCPFC conservation and management measures.
  • 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.
  • Purse seiners in the eastern Pacific Ocean also operate under the International Dolphin Conservation Program, a multilateral agreement aimed at reducing and minimizing bycatch of dolphins and undersize tuna.
  • In 2000, the United States established the Dolphin-Safe Tuna Tracking and Verification Program to monitor the domestic production and importation of all frozen and processed tuna products nationwide and to authenticate any associated dolphin-safe claim.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • U.S. harvest of yellowfin tuna in the Pacific Ocean makes up only a small percentage of the yellowfin tuna harvested worldwide.
    • In 2016, all commercial landings of yellowfin tuna in the western and central Pacific Ocean totaled over 45 million pounds, with purse seine fisheries accounting for nearly 90% of the total catch.
    • In 2016, Hawaii landings of Pacific yellowfin tuna totaled approximately 5 million pounds and were valued at more than $14 million.
    • In 2016, all commercial landings on the U.S. West Coast of Pacific yellowfin tuna totaled more than 800,000 pounds and were valued at more thant $520,000.
    • There are also landings in American Samoa.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Fishermen based in Hawaii, American Samoa, and the U.S. Pacific Islands target Pacific yellowfin tuna with hook-and-line, pelagic longline, or troll fishing gear. 
    • U.S. commercial purse seine fishermen in the western and central Pacific Ocean also harvest yellowfin tuna.
    • There is a small U.S. purse seine fleet operating in the eastern Pacific Ocean that sometimes targets Pacific yellowfin tuna when warm water from the south brings the species within their range.
    • Fishing gear used to catch Pacific yellowfin tuna rarely contacts the seafloor so habitat impacts are minimal.
    • Restrictions on the type of fishing gear that can be used and prohibitions on fishing in certain areas minimize impacts on protected species.
    • 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 for all gear types.
    • Longline fishermen are trained in safe handling and release techniques for sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, and they 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.
    • Management measures are in place to minimize bycatch of juvenile Pacific yellowfin tuna.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • 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 daily bag limits are in place. 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, but local rules may apply.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2017 stock assessment conducted by the IATTC scientific staff, the eastern Pacific Ocean yellowfin tuna stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.
  • According to the 2017 stock assessment, the central and western Pacific Ocean yellowfin tuna stock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.

Location

  • Yellowfin tuna are found in tropical and subtropical oceans around the world, including the waters around the U.S. Pacific Islands and off southern California. 

Habitat

  • Yellowfin tuna are highly migratory and travel long distances throughout the warm ocean.
  • They favor water temperatures between 64° and 88° F.
  • They make annual trips to higher latitudes as water temperatures increase with the seasons.
  • 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.
  • Adult yellowfin also gather in areas having abundant phytoplankton and zooplankton and smaller prey.

Physical Description

  • Yellowfin tuna are torpedo-shaped.
  • They are 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.
  • An adult yellowfin tuna can be distinguished from other tunas by its long, bright-yellow dorsal fin and a yellow stripe down its side.

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, dolphins, and other animals prey on larval and juvenile tuna.
  • Marine mammals, billfish, and sharks feed on adult tuna.

Last updated: 12/03/2018