NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Fisheries’ Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Division are responsible for managing the US Atlantic skipjack tuna fishery under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Atlantic skipjack tuna, along with other HMS like sharks and swordfish, 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 and gear restrictions.
Skipjack 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. ICCAT assesses the abundance of Atlantic skipjack tuna and evaluates current and proposed harvest practices. All contracting parties must record and report catch and effort data of which ICCAT uses to set total allowable catch (TAC) limits. Aside from keeping catches below maximum sustainable yield, there are currently no specific management recommendations for Atlantic skipjack tuna and there is currently no TAC limit for the species. While no specific measures are in place for skipjack, measures ICCAT has adopted to protect other tuna species are thought to generally benefit skipjack tuna. NOAA Fisheries uses conservation and management measures adopted by ICCAT, along with their own research, to set regulations for the US Atlantic skipjack fishery.
NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the skipjack 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 skipjack 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;
- Documentation and reporting requirements for catch; and,
- Mandates that large purse seine vessels be required to have 100 percent observer coverage (smaller vessels must do so if requested by NOAA).
Like their Atlantic counterparts, Pacific skipjack tuna are migratory, cross international boundaries and the high seas, and are fished by many nations. As such, their management requires international cooperation. In the Eastern Pacific, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) is the RFMO tasked with managing the international skipjack fishery and with developing target and harvest limit points. Composed of over 20 different nations including the United States, Canada, China, Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico, IATTC sets management measures that all member nations must adhere to. In the Eastern Pacific, IATTC has set management measures for the purse seine and longline fisheries which include time and area closures, 100 percent observer coverage on large vessels, and requirements that all vessels in the purse seine fishery retain all tuna caught. As the troll and pole fishery has a relatively minor impact on the stock (in comparison), most management measures do not apply for that fishery. IATTC assesses skipjack on a regular basis, and participating countries provide catch data to IATTC via logbooks, observer programs, unloading reports, and export/import records. Additionally, member countries must report to IATTC annually on compliance, monitoring, and control measures. Any purse seine vessel operating in the Eastern Pacific must also operate in accordance to the International Dolphin Conservation Program, which works reduce bycatch of dolphins and undersized tuna. IATTC has established interim target and limit reference points as well as interim harvest control rules for Eastern Pacific skipjack.
Most of the global harvest of skipjack tuna occurs in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) – with US fisheries accounting for roughly nine percent of this total harvest. Of that nine percent, the majority of the US harvest occurs in Hawaii, with some landings occurring in US Pacific Island territories (American Samoa, Guam, etc.). The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is the RFMO in charge of managing the international and high seas skipjack fishery in the WCPO. WCPFC is composed of over 25 member countries including Australia, China, New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, France, the United States, and the Republic of Korea. Among measures member nations adhere to are:
- A three-month prohibition on setting fish aggregating devices (FADs) in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and high seas between 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south;
- Coastal states must reduce purse seine effort to 2010 levels (if they are a member country of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA);
- If they are not a participant in the PNA they must reduce purse seine effort to average levels between 2001 and 2004;
- Purse seine vessels for other countries cannot increase;
- A FAD management plan to reduce capture of juvenile tunas and prepare for FAD closures;
- Annual compliance monitoring requirements; and,
- Prohibition of discarding any tuna catch.
PNA member countries have also agreed to additional management measures including: a regional fishing vessel register, high seas pocket area closures, FAD prohibitions during set times, and a vessel day scheme.
The WCPFC regularly monitors and assesses skipjack tuna stocks. However, target reference points are not in place for any tuna species in the WCPO (with the exception of bigeye in the short-term) and there are currently no harvest control rules. A WCPFC working group is working to address target reference points.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is the RFMO charged with managing skipjack tuna in the Indian Ocean. Among management measures in place for member countries are: reference points and harvest control limits, 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, IOTC members must have a FAD management plan that includes information on the fleet, number of drifting FADs, logbooks, and monitoring and review plans. IOTC member nations require all tuna caught by purse seiners be retained and landed, and encourages retention of other non-targeted finfish. Member countries are required to record and report catch and effort data by species and gear type.