Albacore Tuna

The fishery

As one of the most iconic seafood species in the world, Tuna is world renowned for its popularity with chefs and seafood lovers. Most popular served raw as sashimi because of their buttery and tender texture, there are 15 species of wild Tuna in the ocean. Albacore Tuna are present in the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

The Albacore Tuna fishery in BC is managed by the BC Tuna Fishermen’s Association (BCTA). This association is the voice of the BC Tuna industry, brining information, guidance, and value to a dynamic industry. Tuna fishermen are competing in a global industry, the BCTA is dedicated to ensuring that BC Albacore Tuna maintains its high reputation as safe and high-quality.

About

Albacore Tuna are a highly migratory fish, characterized by their large eyes used to detect prey on the ocean surface. Migration occurs in a counter clockwise circle in the North Pacific from Japan to the coast of North America. Following the California current, Albacore Tuna are found where cold water meets warm water. These areas are rich in plankton blooms and attract schools of forage fish. Tuna are fast predatory fish and found deep in the open ocean, Albacore Tuna are associated with transition zone chlorophyll fronts as this is an area of sharp temperature changes (fronts) and high primary production, which attracts prey species. Young Tuna make their way to BC because of the nutritious waters.

Albacore Tuna live between 11- 12 years and reach reproductive maturity at 5-6 years. Female tuna can produce between 800,000 and 2.6 million eggs through broadcast spawning. Juvenile Tuna remain near the spawning grounds until their second year.

The harvest

Albacore Tuna are harvested using hook and line gear, also known as trolling. The jigs (hooks) are double pronged, barbless, and un-baited. They have a coloured plastic skirt, which looks like a colourful squid or fish. This attracts the strong eyesight of Tuna, therefore, there is very little by-catch in this fishery because Albacore Tuna are the only species to spot these plastic jigs. 8-15 jigs are dragged along the surface simulating forage fish movements. The boat harvests Tuna while they are moving at a speed of 6 knots.

Hooked tuna are brought up to the boat with hydraulic shivs or ‘tuna pullers’ and carefully drawn up close to the stern. Each fish is carefully lifted aboard by hand and the Tuna are immediately stunned then bled to prevent bruising and to preserve flavour and texture. Fish are then washed and placed into the ship’s freezer-hold where core temperature is quickly brought down to -30° C. This method of fishing is specific to B.C. Albacore Tuna, they catch virtually no other types of fish.

Learn more about hook and line harvesting. 

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Sustainability

The Albacore Tuna fishery is limited entry and seasonally managed. Since Tuna are a highly migratory species, harvested in the open ocean, Canada and the USA must work together to manage the fishery.

Tuna vessel masters must record every fish that is harvested and submit it to the Department of Fisheries. After the Department of Fisheries collects all the information on the amount of Tuna harvested that season, they will submit it to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. From there, international third-party scientists will monitor the populations. The IATTC is the regional fisheries management organization responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and tuna -like species, associated species and their ecosystems, throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean, from Canada, in the north, to Chile, in the South.

When

In Canadian waters, the fishery primarily takes place from July to September, but can start earlier and run later depending on the migration of Albacore Tuna and the oceanic conditions. Fishing activity is dependent on markets, ocean and weather conditions, and fuel prices. Fishing effort is influenced by the dynamics of other commercial fisheries, particularly the Salmon fishery. The BC Albacore Tuna fishery normally peaks in August and September, after the Salmon troll season.

When

In Canadian waters, the fishery primarily takes place from July to September, but can start earlier and run later depending on the migration of Albacore Tuna and the oceanic conditions. Fishing activity is dependent on markets, ocean and weather conditions, and fuel prices. Fishing effort is influenced by the dynamics of other commercial fisheries, particularly the Salmon fishery. The BC Albacore Tuna fishery normally peaks in August and September, after the Salmon troll season.

Where

The harvest of Pacific Albacore Tuna occurs in open waters, generally a significant distance from the shore. Tuna boats are equipped with large freezers onboard, to keep the Tuna at optimal quality. Tuna fleets remain at sea for several weeks or months because the fishing grounds are so far offshore.

During the Spring, Tuna follows the warm waters from Oregon all the way up to Alaska. As the season changes to Fall and the water gets cooler, Tuna turn around and follow the warm waters back.

The market

Freshly harvested Albacore Tuna are hauled onboard, they are stunned and bled to preserve the quality of the fish. Fish are only on deck from 10 to 30 minutes before they are immediately flash frozen. Freezing right away ensures that the fish will remain in perfect condition as the boat remains at sea.

Fish are unloaded at ports along the West Coast, sorted by size, then sold either directly by the fishermen to the consumer, or to fish buyers who operate in communities along the coast. Catch is landed frozen and purchased for distribution to domestic and international consumption as sashimi and other premium-grade products.