There is considerable uncertainty in the recent (2013) assessment of the albacore stock in the South Atlantic, yet results indicate that the stock is overfished and being marginally subject to overfishing. ICCAT have reduced the TAC in line with scientific advice, however this TAC will likely only place the stock above Bmsy by 2020. A lower TAC would see the stock back to healthy levels much faster. The current TAC has been slightly overshot in 2011 and 2012, yet adherence to the TAC has been generally good over the last decade. The bycatch of threatened, protected and endangered species in the longline fisheries, particularly of albatross, is of concern and improved monitoring is required. Due to the low levels of discard and bycatch, the surface fisheries (troll and pole & line) are the best choices.
Tuna belong to the family Scombridae. They are large, oceanic fish and are seasonally migratory, some making trans-oceanic journeys. Albacore are found throughout the world's temperate, sub-tropical and tropical oceans, although they are less common in the tropics. They are found from the surface to a depth of 600m where they often form mixed schools with skipjack, yellowfin and bluefin tuna. They grow more slowly than skipjack and yellowfin tuna, reaching a maximum size of 140cm, 60kg in weight and maximum age of 15 years. Albacore mature when about 90cm length and 4-5 years old. Spawning normally occurs between January and July.
Albacore stocks in the Atlantic are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The latest stock assessment of South Atlantic albacore was conducted in 2013 and included catch, effort and size data up to 2011. There was considerable uncertainty in the data available for assessments, so a wide range of scenarios were modelled. The provisional catch for 2012 is 24,726t which is about the same as the 2011 catch and up about 12% from the previous five year average and also a little over the Total Allowable Catch of 24,000t. The scientific committee note that both the stock and fishing mortality are close to that which would produce MSY, however, the stock is being marginally overfished (Fishing mortality, F2011, at 1.04Fmsy with a range of 0.38 to 1.32) and is an overfished state (Biomass, B, at 0.92Bmsy with a range of 0.71 to 1.26). The wide ranges demonstrate high uncertainty in the assessment.
Recent research from across the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific suggests that fluctuations in environmental conditions may have dramatic impacts on the temporal and spatial distribution of albacore populations.
Most tuna stocks range across and are accessed by numerous coastal states, making harmonised and effective management of these individual stocks very difficult. As a result, intergovernmental Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have been established. There are five main tuna RFMOs worldwide and it is their responsibility to carry out data collection, scientific monitoring and management of these fisheries. Albacore stocks in the Atlantic are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Whilst the RFMOs are responsible for the development of management and conservation measures, the degree to which they are implemented, monitored and enforced still varies significantly between coastal states. For this reason, it is important to choose tuna that has been caught by vessels that are well regulated by their flag state.
In 2011, following scientific advice, the TAC was lowered to 24,000 tonnes and this has been reapplied for the next three years. This TAC was slightly overshot in both 2011 and 2012, but since implementation of TACs in 2001, adherence has been relatively good. Under the current TAC though the latest assessment indicates that it will take until 2020 before there is 50% probability of the stock being above Bmsy. A lower TAC would see the stock reach Bmsy much sooner. Any overshooting of the TAC in subsequent years will result in this overshot amount being deducted from the TAC in the following year.
Selected ICCAT management and conservation measures regarding albacore fisheries include:
A prohibition to retain at risk shark species including: bigeye thresher, oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and silky sharks. This has been in place for over three years, yet ICCAT has not received records of compliance from the majority of member states.
A combination of at least two bird mitigation measures are required to be used for pelagic longline fisheries, yet monitoring and data relating to this and other vulnerable bycatch species is deficient.
ICCAT have developed an IUU vessel register and a register of vessels authorised to undertake transhipments at sea. Additionally, transhipments at sea can only take place if an ICCAT Observer is onboard the receiving vessel. ICCAT have developed a vessel register for vessels over 20m in length.
The recent total annual South Atlantic albacore landings were largely attributed to four fisheries, namely the surface bait boat fleets of South Africa and Namibia, and the longline fleets of Brazil and Chinese Taipei. The surface fleets are entirely albacore directed and mainly catch juvenile and sub adult fish (70 cm to 90 cm FL). On average, the longline vessels catch larger albacore (60 cm to 120 cm FL) than the surface fleets. 70% of the catch is made by longlining and 27% by pole and line , troll & jig bait boats. Several mitigation measures are in place to reduce bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds in the longline fisheries yet monitoring is deficient. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) 17 of the 22 albatross species are threatened with extinction, largely because of longlining. See http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/albatross/ for more info. Pole & line and troll & jig boats are more labour intensive yet far more selective than longlining. Pole & line and troll fisheries are more labour intensive, but are far more selective. Some concern has been raised over the unknown impacts on bait fish populations used in the pole & line fishery.
Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below . Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.
ICCAT, 2013. Report of the 2013 ICCAT North and South Atlantic albacore stock assessment meeting. Sukarrieta, Spain, 17 to 24 June 2013. Available at http://www.iccat.int/Documents/Meetings/Docs/2013_ALB_ASSESS_REP_ENG.pdf [Last accessed Dec 2013].
ISSF, 2013. ISSF Tuna Stock Status Update, 2013(2): Status of the world fisheries for tuna. ISSF Technical Report 2013-04A. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, D.C., USA. Available at http://iss-foundation.org/resources/downloads/?did=487 [Accessed Nov 2013].
IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2.
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