NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Fisheries’ Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Division are responsible for managing the US Atlantic albacore tuna fishery under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Atlantic albacore tuna, along with other Atlantic HMS like sharks, swordfish, and other tuna species, are managed under the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Under the FMP, federal management regulations apply to all US states with the exception of Maine, Connecticut, and Mississippi. Among measures the FMP includes are permit requirements, time and area closures, and gear restrictions.
Albacore tuna are a highly migratory species that move between the jurisdiction of multiple nations as well as the high seas, and as such their management requires international cooperation. The United Nations Law of the Sea indicates that the management of HMS be carried out through Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs). RFMOs are the only legally mandated fishery management body on the high seas. The RFMO responsible for the management of Atlantic tunas, as well as other Atlantic HMS, is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). ICCAT is made up of 51 contracting parties including the United States, Canada, Japan, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom and is responsible for management of the three albacore stocks in the Atlantic: the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Mediterranean. ICCAT assesses the abundance of Atlantic albacore tuna and evaluates current and proposed harvest practices. All contracting parties must record and report catch and effort data which ICCAT then uses to set total allowable catch (TAC) limits. In the North Atlantic, ICCAT allocates TACs to the European Union, Taiwan, Venezuela, and the US while in the South Atlantic, albacore is managed under country-specific TACs. In 2009, ICCAT instituted a rebuilding plan for North Atlantic albacore with the goal of rebuilding albacore populations by 2019. Additional management measures include a vessel-monitoring program for large vessels (over 65 feet long) and bycatch mitigation measures. There is currently no albacore-specific recovery plan in place in the South Atlantic, but management measures are in place to aid in the tuna’s recovery. ICCAT conducts stock assessments for both the North and South Atlantic every four to six years. NOAA Fisheries uses conservation and management measures adopted by ICCAT, along with their own research, to set regulations for the US Atlantic albacore fishery.
NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the albacore tuna fishery on the US West Coast under the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for US West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species. In Hawaii and the US Pacific Island territories, NOAA Fisheries and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the albacore tuna fishery in the US Pacific under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific. These plans are similar in that both set permit requirements, gear restrictions to minimize bycatch, and documentation and reporting requirements for catch.
Like their Atlantic counterparts, Pacific albacore tuna are highly migratory, cross international boundaries and the high seas, and are fished by many nations. As such, their management also requires international cooperation. In the North and South Pacific, albacore, along with other tuna and HMS, are managed by two RFMOs: the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) which is the RFMO in charge of managing the international and high seas albacore fishery in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. IATTC is composed of over 20 different nations including the United States, Canada, China, Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico while the WCPFC is composed of over 25 member countries including Australia, China, New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, France, the United States, and the Republic of Korea. Both RFMOs are responsible for setting management and compliance measures that all participating member nations must adhere to. There are relatively few albacore- specific management measures in place in the North Pacific; however, both RFMOs do work to maintain current harvest levels (average effort between 2002 and 2004) and the species is regularly monitored and assessed in the North Pacific. As of 2017, the majority of North Pacific albacore was caught using longline gear (39 percent) followed by pole and line gear (36 percent). Longline use; however, has been on the decline since 1997. There are also few albacore-specific management measures in place in the South Pacific though the WCPFC has mandated that the number of fishing vessels cannot exceed 2005 levels or historical levels between 2000 and 2004. That vast majority (96 percent) of South Pacific albacore are caught using longline gear (as of 2017). Neither the North nor South Pacific stocks are overfished or subject to overfishing. NOAA, along with the US Department of State, works domestically to implement any conservation measures set forth by the IATTC and WCPFC.
While there are few albacore-specific management measures in place in the Pacific, both the IATTC and WCPFC have adopted measures to reduce bycatch that may take place in the albacore fishery. Member countries are asked to implement the International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catches of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries. Additionally, both RFMOs require members to implement the FAO Guidelines to Reduce Sea Turtle Mortality in Fishing Operations and require longline vessels to carry line cutters and de-hookers. Member nations are encouraged to use circle hooks and follow proper handling and release guidelines in the case of incidental sea turtle capture. Member nations are also to implement the FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and management of sharks and all RFMO member nations are prohibited from landing, retaining, storing, and shipping oceanic whitetip and silky sharks.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is the RFMO charged with managing albacore tuna in the Indian OceaThere are currently 31 members (majority are nation states) in the IOTC. Among management measures in place for member countries are: requirements that countries report the number of vessels exceeding 78 feet long (and under 78 feet long if fishing outside their exclusive economic zone), vessel monitoring requirements, a Fleet Development Plan for capacity control, bycatch mitigation strategies (particularly with sea turtles, juvenile tunas, and sharks), and observer coverage (IOTC requires at least five percent of vessels have an observer). Additionally, member countries are required to record and report catch and effort data by species and gear type. IOTC members are also required to submit any information regarding Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated vessels to the Commission.