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Tuna, yellowfin

Thunnus albacares

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Longline
Capture area - Eastern Pacific - EPO (FAO 77,87,81)
Stock area - EPO
Stock detail - All Areas
Certification -
Fish type - Oily fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is not the most sustainable choice of fish to eat. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

In recent years, the total yellowfin catch in the EPO has been nearly half that of the record high of about 400,000t in 2002. In 2014, the IATTC updated their 2013 stock assessment, and whilst there remains considerable uncertainty in the assessment, the reduced catches appear to have had a positive influence on the stock. According to the recent assessment, spawning biomass has increased and is now estimated to be only slightly overfished and fishing mortality has reduced to below the level that would produce the maximum sustainable yield (Fmsy), indicating the stock is not being subject to overfishing. The stock is highly dependant on recruitment scenarios and it is suggested that the stock may now be moving from a regime of high productivity to an intermediate one and it is recommended that fishing mortality not be increased. Purse seines set on free schooling tuna as opposed to being associated with Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) or dolphins represent the most selective option. Commercial buyers should establish what measures the flag state relating to their source is taking to continually reduce impacts to vulnerable species and to improve data collection, research and monitoring of their fisheries and specify the need to see ongoing, demonstrable improvements. Large buyers should consider supporting such improvements. MCS also advocates specifying the need for supplying vessels, in particular purse seiners, to register on the ISSF Proactive Vessel Register.


Tuna belong to the family Scombridae. They are large, oceanic fish and are seasonally migratory, some making trans-oceanic journeys. Yellowfin are found throughout the world's tropical and subtropical seas, except the Mediterranean. They often form large, size specific schools, frequently associated with dolphins or floating objects. Yellowfin is a large fast growing species, reaching maximum sizes of 240cm in length, 200kg in weight and an age of 8 years. They mature when 2 to 5 years old and mainly spawn in summer. Smaller fish are mainly limited to surface waters, while larger fish are found in surface and deeper waters, but rarely below 250m. Yellowfin has medium resilience to fishing.

Stock information

Stock area

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Stock information
Yellowfin stocks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) are managed and assessed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). In 2013, catches were approximately 223,000t which is a little lower than the previous five year average of 231,000t and 16% less than the estimated Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of 266,000t. In 2014, the IATTC updated their 2013 stock assessment and indicated that both spawning biomass and fishing mortality had slightly improved since the last assessment, yet uncertainty remained about recent and future levels of recruitment and biomass. The scientific committee note that there have been two, and possibly three, different productivity regimes, and the MSY levels and the biomasses corresponding to the MSY may differ among the regimes. The population may have switched in the last ten years from a high to an intermediate productivity regime. The results indicate that the spawning biomass has improved a little in recent years and at the start of 2014 is slightly below that which would produce MSY (0.98Bmsy) and is therefore slightly overfished. Recent fishing mortality (2011-2013) was below Fmsy (0.87Fmsy) indicating that the stock is not being subject to overfishing. It is noted though that if a stock-recruitment relationship is assumed, the outlook is more pessimistic, and current effort would be estimated to be above the MSY level. It is also noted that MSY could be increased by reducing fishing mortality in fisheries which take juveniles.


Most tuna stocks range across and are accessed by numerous coastal states, making harmonised and effective management of these individual stocks very difficult. To try and achieve this, 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. Eastern Pacific Ocean bigeye tuna is managed and assessed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). 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. There is a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainable and well managed pole and line fishery for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye based on the California Peninsula, Mexico.

There is no harvest control defined for yellowfin in the EPO and the IATTC has adopted interim target reference points of Fmsy and Bmsy. The latest assessment states that 'maintaining the fishing mortality below the MSY level would result in only a marginal decrease in the long-term average yield, with the benefit of a relatively large increase in the spawning biomass' so it would seem wise to not increase effort in the fishery. The main stock conservation measures established includes: a 62-day closure for purse seiners greater than 182 tons capacity; a seasonal closure of the purse seine fishery in an area known as El Corralito, west of the Galapagos Islands, where catch rates of small bigeye are high; and a full retention requirement for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tunas for all purse seine vessels and there is 100% observer coverage on large purse seiners and 5% coverage on large longliners.

To help address IUU, the IATTC maintains an IUU Vessel List and prohibits transhipments at sea for most vessels (Some exemptions apply) and requires most other transhipments to be documented and observed as part of the regional observer programme.

Capture information

Longline catches of yellowfin in the Eastern Pacific Ocean have been steadily decreasing and in 2013, represented only 4% of the total retained catch. Longlining targets larger, mature fish yet is often associated with the bycatch of vulnerable species such as seabirds, turtles and sharks. To help address this, the IATTC require: that longliners over 20m in length use at least two prescribed seabird mitigation measures (e.g. tori line, dyed bait, weighted branch line, night setting, underwater setting chute); for vessels to carry line cutters and de-hookers to promptly release turtles or to foster to recovery any sick or comatose turtles captured; permissible sharks are to be fully utilized and no more than 5% of fins to total shark weight can be retained with a prohibition to land oceanic whitetip; and countries to develop national plans of action to address the bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds. Monitoring and reporting is deficient in many fisheries however, and the effectiveness of these various measures has not been evaluated. The IATTC requires 5% observer coverage on longliners greater than 20m in length.

Monitoring and reporting of interactions with vulnerable species in particular needs to be improved.

Read more about capture methods

Froese, R. and Pauly, D. Editors, 2013. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. Available at [Accessed Nov 2013].

IATTC, 2014. Active IATTC and AIDCP Resolutions and Recommendations. Available at [Accessed Jan 2015].

IATTC, 2014. Scientific advisory committee: fifth meeting. La Jolla, California. 12 to 16 May. Available at [Accessed Jan 2015].

IATTC, 2014. Status of yellowfin tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2013 and outlook for the future. Available at [Accessed Jan 2015].

ISSF, 2014. ISSF Tuna Stock Status Update, 2014: Status of the world fisheries for tuna. ISSF Technical Report 2014-09. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, D.C., USA. Available at [Accessed Nov 2014].

IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. . [Accessed December 2012].

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