In recent years, international meetings on managing the Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) and seafood auctions for this species have sparked headlines, such as those below, advocating urgent action to reduce overfishing or exclaiming at the astronomical prices for a single large fish.
The fishery for Pacific bluefin tuna is in serious trouble, more so than for any other tuna, even the other bluefin tuna stocks (for a summary, see the ISSF Status of the Stocks Report). The wild population of Pacific bluefin tuna is officially overfished, and overfishing is still going on.
- Pacific bluefin tuna is economically and ecologically important due to its high market value and its role as a large predator in pelagic ecosystems. It is highly migratory and very widely distributed in the Pacific Ocean, seasonally inhabiting subarctic, temperate, and tropical waters in the North Pacific Ocean, and temperate waters in the south around Australia and New Zealand. It also undertakes large vertical movements.
- Pacific bluefin tuna has only one stock and spawning has only been recorded in the north western Pacific Ocean. It is the second largest of all the tunas. Only the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is larger. Until 1999, Pacific and Atlantic Bluefin tuna were considered the same species.
- About 14,000 tonnes is caught from the wild per year, most in the Western Pacific Ocean. Many of the smaller Pacific bluefin tuna are caught live in coastal waters, and taken to coastal cages in Japan and Mexico, and grown out, adding weight and value to the wild catch. In 2002 in Japan, the life cycle was closed in captivity and a small amount of production now comes from full aquaculture. Pacific bluefin tuna is caught both as targeted catch and as non-targeted bycatch, by many different fishing methods, including by several types of small-scale Japanese fisheries.
- Pacific bluefin tuna is managed jointly by two tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO), namely the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and their country members. Given the concerns for the status of the stock and its fisheries, environmental non-government organizations have campaigned for much stronger catch restrictions.
- The Pacific bluefin tuna stock is assessed as overfished and subject to overfishing. The 2016 stock assessment from the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) estimated that the spawning stock biomass was 2.6% of its estimated unfished level.
- Pacific bluefin tuna is a most prized commodity in the sashimi market.
- Under global climate change predictions, the relative abundance, spatial distribution ranges, and predator-prey dynamics in food webs of Pacific bluefin tuna are expected to change in response to altered oceanographic regimes that govern life cycle and seasonal movements.
The profiles have been written by Victoria Jollands and peer reviewed by many experts. Information has been drawn from peer reviewed sources which are given for each page of the profile. See Contributors and Reviewers for details and acknowledgements.
Longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol) is growing in importance on local and international tuna markets.
As a member of the genus Thunnus, longtail tuna is closely related to the main oceanic tunas such as the bluefin tunas, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna. Yet, it has a very different habitat to these species. It lives in coastal and inshore areas, most commonly in depths less than 50 m. It is one of the neritic tunas (neritic: near shore).
AsiaPacific-FishWatch has compiled a profile of longtail tuna. This species is only found in the Indo-West-Pacific region, where catches match those of bigeye and albacore tuna. For landings, the top eight countries are Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Oman, India, Pakistan and Yemen. Given these key countries, not surprisingly, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center pay more management attention to longtail tuna than does the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Here are some key facts about longtail tuna, although much remains to be discovered about this species:
- Limited genetic studies indicate at least two stocks – one in coastal northwest India and one in the South China Sea. More studies are required to define the structure of stocks and remove uncertainty over which units to use for stock assessments.
- Full regional stock assessments are not available. Several local assessments predict the longtail tuna fishery will reach overfished status under the current fishing pressure. No longtail tuna fishery has received certification of sustainability.
- Most longtail tuna are caught in gillnets, purse seines and troll lines. Usually, the fish are caught in multi-species fisheries, making management of this species difficult. Accurate catch data are difficult to collect.
- Longtail tuna is sold canned, smoked and fresh, including as sashimi, in domestic markets and on the global market. Longtail tuna canning facilities are located in India, Indonesia, Iran, and Thailand and are supplied with fish captured primarily from purse seines.
- Longtail tuna is an important recreational fishing species in Australia and Oman.
- Consumer guides have been inconsistent, partly due to the large data gaps for longtail tuna.
Find out more about longtail tuna by exploring the pages of our profile - Quick Facts, Sustainability, Production, Supply Chains & Markets, Environment & Climate, and Biology.
The profiles were written by an expert team: Duncan Leadbitter, Shane Griffiths, Demian Willette and Thomas Nugroho, and peer reviewed by many other experts (see: Contributors & Reviewers).
After early planning thanks to support from NOAA's FishWatch and potential regional collaborators, AsiaPacific-FishWatch began by starting to prepare full profiles of the 4 key oceanic tuna species, thanks to a grant from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). These four pilot species comprising of 9 recognised stocks – skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna - are nearly complete (see Species). AsiaPacific-FishWatch has not yet ventured into other oceanic tunas such as the temperate bluefins (Southern Bluefin and North Pacific Bluefin) and the more coastal (so called neretic) tunas. The four tuna profiles revealed generic lessons for tackling other species, and highly particular insights into where to find expert knowledge on oceanic tunas in the Indian and Western Pacific oceans. The Indian and Western and Central Pacific ocean tuna fisheries produce nearly three quarters of the world's tuna and competition for the fish is increasing. Even as the tuna profiles were composed and reviewed, the transparency of the sources of tuna information improved greatly. Further improvements still are expected as tuna resources and fishing comes under greater public scrutiny, and civil society environmental and labor advocates become more interested and vocal in the tuna management forums.
One lesson from profiling the four oceanic tuna species is that the species differ from each other in important ways, such as in their preferred ocean habitats, growth rates and markets. We hope that the differences as well as similarities become clearer in you read our authoritative profiles, and that this may help to better inform public discussion over actions to ensure sustainability of the resources and social justice in the supply chains. Our profiles are short summaries, barely the tip of an iceberg of expert knowledge and outstanding knowledge gaps.
A quick guide to knowledge on oceanic tunas
The following short guide is presented to share what we have learned after scoping the knowledge iceberg under the water, to help you see more of the iceberg by diving into the depths of knowledge and to keep up with the knowledge of oceanic tunas as it evolves.
A good place to start is with the Food and Agricultural Organization(FAO) and its species fact sheets (see each tuna species page on AsiaPacific-FishWatch),and this link for the species synopsis book.
The IOTC, SPC and ISSF publish handy tuna and bycatch identification guides. Check these out, including extensive guides from the SPC in distinguishing yellowfin and bigeye tuna in all states of freshness and otherwise:
- Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC): species identification cards
- Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC): For the most comprehensive guides and handbooks to the identification of yellowfin and bigeye tuna, from fresh to frozen and damaged, see the Secretariat for the Pacific Community FAME Digital Library, and enter "yellowfin" AND "David Itano" (author) into the search boxes to obtain the guides, many in several languages.
- For ISSF skippers and observers guidebooks online, click this link for the Guidebooks. The guidebooks include identification guides and help on gear practices to avoid and mitigate bycatch.
In the scientific knowledge base, these four ocean tuna species are each recognized as global, well defined species. They are fished throughout their ranges. Thus the most basic biology - species identification, range and distribution - is established. For the purpose of assessing the status of the stocks, however, much more information than basic biology is needed, starting with defining populations or separate stocks that form the basic units for fisheries assessment. As all species are considered "highly migratory," scientific research has studied the patterns of movement for individual fish, using tags.The types of tags used to mark individual fish started as simple individual markers and have now become highly sophisticated with the advent of electronic archival tags to store and track multiple types of fish and ambient environment information. In the meantime, as tagging and other studies such as genetics, growth and reproductive biology started to reveal more and more about the actual spatial structures of populations, tuna stock assessment experts have had to make working approximations on what to consider as stocks. Hence, for the purposes of assessments, 9 stocks are used, consisting of Indian Ocean (IO) and Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) stocks in the case of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye, and, in the case of albacore tuna, IO, Southern Pacific Ocean and Northern Pacific Ocean stocks. Finer spatial resolution and divisions by fishing gear are used in all assessments.
Because stock assessment also requires information on the species growth, life cycle and reproduction, the reports of stock assessments are handy sources to look through for such material. The biological basics are usually succinctly summarized out of the primary research literature consisting of detailed research papers in journals, technical reports and conference papers. For Asia-Pacific, we summarize much of the basic biological knowledge in our species profiles, and provide you with the main sources. Here is where to find these key stock assessment reports:
The ISSF Status of Stocks overviews provide assessments for all oceanic tunas, by stock, based on the regional tuna management organisations' assessments and other credible information on fisheries management measures and environmental issues, especially bycatch of each fishing gear type. ISSF also publishes an overview of bycatch issues in its Status of the Stocks reports.
- IOTC Stock Status Dashboard, also links to summary of latest overview of each IO stock (
- IOTC Scientific Committee meeting reports and papers
Western and Central Pacific Ocean:
- The Secretariat for the Pacific Community’s Ocean Fisheries Programme website contains a wealth of data and access to publications.
- The SPC also provides an annual overview of stock status. The latest can be downloaded at SPC Oceanfish by clicking on Tuna Stock Status on the right bar.
- The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Scientific Committee reports and all the meeting papers are online.
Northern Pacific (for Albacore Tuna fishery of the North Pacific)
See the Independent Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, Albacore Tuna pages.
Australia shares some of the tuna resources, and also published comprehensive overview of the status of its fish stocks including for bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna.
For the latest management decisions and up to date documents on the relevant Conservation and Management Measures (CMM), see the following:
- Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission: website, and CMMs
- Indian Ocean Tuna Commission: website, and CMMs.
- Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (for shared stocks of albacore tuna:): website
The most comprehensive information is in the SPC 2011 book on climate change - Vulnerability of Tropical Pacific Fisheries and Aquaculture to Climate Change.
The biennial INFOFISH World Tuna Trade Conference and Exhibition in Bangkok (21-23 May 2014) is a good time to check the most up-to-date information on the status of tuna stocks, including those of the Western and Central Pacific and Indian oceans.
The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation makes this check easier for us. It commissions its Scientific Advisory Committee to overview analyses of the status of status of stocks in all regional fisheries management bodies, and other experts to check stocks against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards.
For the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna, the status of the stocks are unchanged since the last major update in 2012. Although none of the stocks are currently overfished, concern is expressed for bycatch in certain types of fishing (longline and certain sections of the purse seine fisheries) and the lack of management controls in the equatorial area of the yellowfin fishery and in the bigeye fishery.
In the Indian Ocean, skipack and bigeye status did not change since the last assessments; the yellowfin stock needs reassessment because of recent higher fishing levels; and for albacore the abundance has changed from yellow to green despite that fishing mortality went from yellow to orange. For all stocks, bycatch in purse seine, longline and the large and growing gillnet fisheries is of concern.
The assessments against MSC standards (by experienced assessors) covered the sustainable fish stocks principle (P1) and the effective management principle (P3), but did not do the minimising environmental impact principle (P2). Of the 8 Western and Central Pacific and Indian Ocean stocks assessed, 3 received a passing score on P1, namely WCPO skipjack and Indian Ocean skipjack and yellowfin. Among the regional management organisations, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was the most highly rated globally, just ahead of Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.
Two-thirds of the world’s fish are harvested or farmed in the Asia-Pacific region, yet information on the fish is often difficult to find, piecemeal and confusing. The Asian Fisheries Society and its partners set out to break through this critical information barrier by creating AsiaPacific-FishWatch. “We are bringing together essential and authoritative information on who produces the fish, how they are produced, processed, traded, and eventually end up in the diets of people all around the world,” said the President of the Asian Fisheries Society, Professor Huang (President of Shanghai Ocean University, China). “In this project, we welcome feedback from the public and experts, and collaboration from many partners.”
AsiaPacific-FishWatch (www.asiapacfish.org) is developing profiles of the most important types of fish and shellfish produced in the Asia-Pacific region, covering the seas, rivers, lakes and farms of the western and central Pacific ocean and the Indian ocean. The profiles are comprehensive and cover sustainability, production, supply chains, environment and climate, and biology. The aim is to explain Asia-Pacific fish products for consumers, the general public, fish exporters and importers, development agencies, fisheries managers and scientists.
The project is launching with the profile of the region’s skipjack tuna fisheries (see skipjack), and will soon be followed by profiles of yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna that are in the final stages of preparation. The skipjack fisheries are among the largest fisheries in the world. The western and central Pacific skipjack fishery supplies the majority of the fish for the world canned tuna market. Susan Jackson, President of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) explained: “Skipjack schools make up the last remaining truly robust commercially fished stocks of tuna in the world, and protecting this species is especially vital to the economies of nations in the Asia-Pacific region. In order to build consensus around proactive, sustainable management measures for any species of fish, we must have open-access to the wealth of scientific data that exists. Cataloguing this information also helps us to identify voids, which ultimately promotes improved fishery data collection.”
All information in AsiaPacific-FishWatch is reviewed by the top experts in each commodity and subject. It is non-partisan and does not engage in advocacy. Its content emphasizes information relevant to sustainability and people in the supply chain.
For more information Contact:
Asian Fisheries Society, http://www.asianfisheriessociety.org/
c/o Laboratory Marine Biotechnology, Institute of Bioscience
Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Selangor, MALAYSIA
Skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis, Linnaeus, 1758). Picture: SPC
At the 10th Asian Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum, held from 30 April to 4 May in Yeosu, Korea, I presented a paper on the lessons learned from preparing to soon-to-be released skipjack species profile. The presentation benefited from earlier discussions with Dr Patricia Kailola who undertook most of the preparation of the skipjack profile.
In another welcome addition to the availability of information, the SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department has launched its Institute Repository. With hundreds of papers, books, handbooks, extension manuals, articles and newsletter items reaching back to 1978, this collection is also readily searchable and will be further augmented by pictures, videos, presentations and other products.
AsiaPacific-FishWatch is rising to the challenge of finding information on Asia-Pacific fish species, their fisheries and aquaculture and the people who bring them through the supply chain to our bowls and plates. Much of it is not written down, and even some that is can be difficult to find. Therefore, with great joy, I came across the e-print collection of one of the larger fisheries research institute in the region – the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Here is the e-prints address: http://eprints.cmfri.org.in. Loaded with scans of publications going back to 1948, and up to the present, you can search the more than 8,000 papers by year, author, subject, document type or division. The collection is also indexed in many of the main academic services, including Scientific Commons, Scirus and Google.