An Introduction to Pacific Tuna

tuna-skipjack-400Did you know that 65 percent of the world's tuna catch comes from the Pacific?

Species and Amount Caught in the Pacific Ocean Each Year (2004-2008 avg. in metric tonnes)

  • Skipjack tuna: 1,832,000
  • Yellowfin tuna: 691,000
  • Bigeye tuna: 247,000
  • Albacore tuna: 147,000
  • Pacific bluefin tuna: 24,000


Unfortunately, poor tuna fisheries management by the two Pacific tuna RFMOs, the Inter-America Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), and intense fishing pressure from industrial fishing fleets threatens the future of Pacific tuna and consequently, the development and food security of a group of Pacific Island Nations. The industrial fishing vessels involved in these tuna fisheries are from the United States, European Union, Japan, PR China, and Taiwan, Province of China.

What should you know about Pacific tuna?

  • The Pacific yields 65 percent of the world's tuna. This includes the Eastern Pacific tuna stocks, covered by the IATTC and the WCPFC.
  • The IATTC is one of five Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) established to manage fishing of tuna and tuna-like species.
  • With the entry into force of the Antigua Convention in September 2010, the mandate of IATTC has been updated to include an emphasis on implementing the ecosystem approach and precautionary principle in management decisions.
  • RFMOs are inter-governmental arrangements for managing fisheries on the high seas, or fishing of straddling stocks of highly migratory species. They are considered the primary mechanism for facilitating cooperation between fishing countries, including coastal states, to agree to conservation and management measures for fisheries.
  • Pacific tuna is the subject of one of the world's newest RFMOs, the WCPFC.
  • This RFMO oversees half of the world's tuna catch and it is negotiating a new Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) for tuna species in December 2011.
  • If negotiated properly, this tuna focused CMM has the potential to have a major positive conservation impact on bigeye and yellowfin tuna.
  • The distant-water fleets from Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan PC, and the United States capture most of the skipjack in the western and central Pacific.
  • Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a problem in the Pacific, as foreign fishing vessels continue to illegally take tuna from the region.

Main threats to tuna in the Pacific

Poor fisheries management

The WCPFC and IATTC are responsible for managing tuna populations across the Pacific Ocean. These two commissions are responsible for making sure fishing of these populations occurs in a sustainable manner–which, to date, has not occurred.

These bodies have failed to manage tuna stocks according to scientific advice, and once-prolific tuna populations are now either being overfished, or are on their way to being overfished.

Despite scientists' warnings, governments continue to allow increases in the number and size of fishing vessels, speeding up the race toward overfishing, and making it virtually impossible for overfished populations to recover. This is bad news for the fish and bad news for the people that depend most on these fisheries for food and income.

Species in trouble and their status in the Western and Central Pacific

  • Yellowfin tuna: Fully exploited, cannot increase fishing
  • Bigeye tuna: Overfishing occurring, must decrease fishing
  • Pacific bluefin: Overfishing occurring, must decrease fishing


tuna-wcpfc-dataTo the right are the historic catch of bigeye in the Western and Central Pacific compared to the maximum sustainable level in red (WCPFC 2011). Unsustainable catches are driven by the industry's use of Fish Aggregating Devices, which lead to the capture of millions of juvenile bigeye.


Learn more about tuna in the Pacific