Good Fish Guide
Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Pole & line
Capture area - North West and Central Pacific (FAO 61,71,77)
Stock area - North Pacific
Stock detail - All Areas
Certification - None
Fish type - Oily fish
The North Pacific albacore stock was last assessed in 2014. Whilst biomass reference points (relating to MSY) have not been established for the fishery, the assessment indicated that the biomass is most likely healthy, and is achieving its interim management objective to not allow stocks to fall below the average of the 10 worst historical levels. Similarly, the assessment indicated that overfishing was not occurring. Approximately 60% of the total catch is taken in surface pole and line or troll fisheries. Whilst generally targeting smaller albacore, both these methods are very selective and have very little impact on non-target species, although some monitoring and basic management of bait fish used in pole and line fisheries is needed. Pelagic longlining is associated with the bycatch of vulnerable species, such as sharks, turtles and seabirds in particular. Mitigation measures are in place yet widespread monitoring is deficient and reporting of interactions with vulnerable species is poor. There are a number of albacore fisheries in the North Pacific that are certified as sustainable, well managed fisheries by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) which represent the best choice.
Commercial buyers sourcing from the longline fisheries should establish what measures the flag state is taking to improve deficiencies in monitoring and reporting - particularly of interactions with vulnerable species - and specify the need for ongoing and demonstrable improvements. Large buyers should consider supporting such improvements.
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.
The North Pacific albacore fishery was last assessed by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) in 2014. The total annual catches of North Pacific albacore peaked in 1976 at about 125,000 t, declined to about 38,000 t in 1991, and then increased to about 122,000 t in 1999. The preliminary catch for 2015 is 69,842t which is below the 2010-2014 average of 73,719t. This remains under the estimated Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of 105,571t. MSY biological reference points have not been established for this fishery due to a lack of long-term data available, however, an interim management objective to maintain the spawning stock biomass (SSB) above the average of the ten historically lowest estimated points (ATHL) with a probability greater than 50% is in place (This objective is estimated to be greater than Bmsy).
Results of the 2014 assessment indicated that the stock was not being subject to overfishing, with current fishing mortality (F2010 to 2012) at approximately 0.51Fmsy. Similarly, the biomass is estimated to be well above its management objective, indicating the stock is most likely in a healthy state and not overfished. It is noted however, that if a low recruitment scenario is assumed, the probability of the current fishing mortality reducing the biomass below its objective is 65%.
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. The responsibility for the management of Albacore in the North Pacific is shared between the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC). Whilst these 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. A number of American and Canadian albacore fisheries are certified as sustainable and well managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and represent the best options.
There is no Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set for this stock, however country set catch quotas have reportedly been adhered to since 2009. Both IATTC and WCPFC have measures in place to limit fishing effort and capacity so as not to exceed the level experienced in 2005, and current levels of effort match the average from the period 2002 to 2004.
Both the IATTC and WCPFC require 5% observer coverage on longliners greater than 20m.
To help address IUU, both the IATTC and the WCPFC maintain an IUU Vessel list as well as a register of large longliners that are authorised to target albacore; it is also prohibited to undertake transhipments at sea between purse seiners (Some exemptions apply) and all other transhipments need to be documented and 100% observed as part of the regional observer programme.
Approximately 42% of the albacore in the North Pacific is caught in surface pole and line fisheries, primarily from Japan. Pole and line fisheries generally target smaller albacore which tend to stay closer to the surface. This is a labour intensive yet very selective method of fishing with very little impact on non-target species, yet considerable amounts of bait fish are used in these fisheries to attract the albacore. Whilst bait fish are usually small, resilient species, it is important that these stocks are monitored.
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.
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ISSF, 2016. Status of the world fisheries for tuna: Management of tuna stocks and fisheries, 2016. ISSF Technical Report 2016-14.International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, D.C., USA. Available at http://iss-foundation.org/downloads/13305/ [Accessed Nov 2016].
WCPFC, 2016. Conservation and management measures. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/conservation-and-management-measures [Accessed Dec 2016].
WCPFC, 2014. Western and Central Pacific fisheries commission scientific committee: summary report. Tenth regular session. Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, 6-14 August 2014. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/meetings/10th-regular-session-scientific-committee [Accessed Dec 2016].
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