to the Tunas of the Western Atlantic Ocean
The national Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has developed
this pamphlet, A Guide to the Tunas of the Western Atlantic Ocean, to
assist commercial, charter/headboat and recreational users and dealers/buyers
in identifying the seven regulated Atlantic tuna species (bluefin, bigeye,
yellowfin, skipjack, albacore, blackfin, and bonito), as well as the one
unregulated Atlantic tuna species (little tunny). The Atlantic tuna fisheries
occur in all waters of the Eastern United States, from the Northeast (Gulf
of Maine) to the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico
Regions. As of December 1996, there were in excess of 28,000 permitted
vessels that participate throughout the year in the tuna fisheries. These
vessels are regulated under the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management
Act (ATCA) which provides authority to implement international agreements
reached by the International Convention for the conservation of Atlantic
The status of a fishery resource describes the relative
condition of a population as compared to the long term potential yield
that a particular species may provide. The current status of Atlantic
tunas are as follows; bigeye, yellowfin, albacore, and skipjack-fully
utilized; bluefin tuna- over utilized. Management measures are in place
to sustain or rebuild these populations. All users play a role in this
effort by complying with regulatory measures. Identifying and understanding
the species for which one is fishing is a first step towards sound conservation.
Proper identification of tuna species is essential in order to prevent
landings which exceed current regulations.
Some species of tuna (particulary juveniles) are difficult
to identify, and it is often difficult ti identify a tuna using only one
physical feature. The best identification technique is to distinguish
two or more features of the fish, such as pectoral fin length and gill
raker count, and identify the species through the process of elimination.
ATLANTIC TUNAS PERMIT PROGRAM
All owners/operators of vessels (commercial, charter/headboat,
or recreational) harvesting regulated Atlantic tunas (bluefin, bigeye,
yellowfin, skipjack, albacore, blackfin, and bonito) and all fish dealers
must obtain an Atlantic Tunas Permit.
Vessel owners wishing to fish recreationally for Atlantic
bonito are exempt from the requirement to obtain an Atlantic tunas permit.
Commercial and charter/headboat vessel owners are required to obtain an
Atlantic tunas permit to fish for Atlantic bonito.
Atlantic tunas permits are issued in six categories. The
commercial categories are; General, Charter/Headboat, Harpoon Boat, Purse
Seine, and Incidental Catch. The Angling category is the recreational
category. Only one category may be assigned to a vessel.
Atlantic tunas may be sold only by fishers permitted in
commercial categories and may be sold only to permitted dealers. Atlantic
tunas taken recreationally or by persons aboard Angling Category vessels
may not be sold.
NMFS has implemented a new Automated Permitting System
(APS) to apply for and renew Atlantic Tunas Permits. The APS can be accessed
by dialing 1-888-USA-TUNA (1-888-872-8862) or through the internet at:
www.usatuna.com Atlantic Tunas permits must be renewed annually for the
calendar year (January 1- December 31), and there is an $18 annual permit
processing fee. Customer service for the APS can be reached at 1-800-663-3879.
NOTE: permit applications may take up to 30 days process,
and change of permit category may be made from January 1 to May 15 only.
Only one permit category change is permitted each year.
USING THE GUIDE
(1) Body parts and measurements used in identifying
Tuna illustrates the general external and internal physical characteristics
that fishers can refer to when identifying tuna.
(2) Observations to help identify Tunas describes the physical
characteristics used to distinguish the various species from one another.
(3) Reference Key to Atlantic Tunas characterizes, in table
format, anatomical features that may be used to identify tuna.
(4) List of Species provides a picture of each species with
common and scientific names, distinctive characteristics used to identify
the species, maximum and common sizes (in inches), and a brief description
of general distribution and behavior. All lengths given in this guide,
unless otherwise indicated, refer to total straight fork length.
Please carry this guide with you, aboard your vessel, when
fishing for large pelagic species (you never know when you might need
it). If you have questions concerning this guide or Atlantic regulations,
refer to the list of NMFS employees found at the back of the pamphlet.
OBSERVATIONS TO HELP IDENTIFY TUNAS
1) Look at the fins. If the pectoral fin, when held
flush to the side of the tuna's body ends well before the origin of the
second dorsal fin, it is probably a bluefin tuna. If the pectoral fin
extends to or past the origin of the second dorsal fin, then it is likely
either a bigeye or yellowfin. A tuna with extremely long pectoral fins,
extending beyond the origin of the anal fin, is most likely an albacore.
A tuna over forty pounds with extremely long anal and second dorsal fins
is most likely a yellowfin.
2) Count the gill rakers on the first gill arch and observe the
liver for its shape and presence of striations. This information, combined
with fin shape and size, should permit correct identification of the species.
3) Headed and gutted yellowfin tuna have a distinct, white fleshy
round node (like a fleshy cord) that runs along the top of the body cavity
from front to rear. This is absent in bigeye and bluefin.
4) Headed and gutted bluefin tuna have a distinct pocket that can
be felt by running your hand along the inside of the body cavity underneath
the insertion of the pectoral fin. Yellowfin and bigeye tuna do not have
this indentation in their body cavity.
CURVED FORK LENGTH MEASUREMENT
Total curved fork length is the sole criterion for determining
the size class of whole (head on) Atlantic tunas for regulatory purposes.
Curved fork length means a measurement of the length of a tuna taken in
a line tracing the contour of the body from the tip of the upper jaw to
the fork of the tail, which abuts the upper side of the pectoral fin and
the upper side of the caudel keel.The measuring tape must pass over
(and touch) the pectoral fin and the caudal keel.