U.S. Domestic Fishery Management of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

NOAA Fisheries (also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS) is charged with managing domestic Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries and implementing ICCAT regulations in the United States. The Highly Migratory Species Division within the Office of Sustainable Fisheries sets domestic regulations and monitors catch levels of bluefin. Under the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act of 1975 (ATCA), NOAA Fisheries must comply precisely with ICCAT regulations, and the fishery must be managed to allow U.S. fishermen to catch their full ICCAT quota.

ATCA supersedes other domestic laws, such as the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). Because bluefin tuna are overfished and overfishing is still occurring, MSA mandates implementation of a 10-year domestic rebuilding plan, which would likely severely limit catch levels. With ATCA, however, NOAA Fisheries must manage bluefin fisheries to allow the full ICCAT quota to be caught.

Bluefin tuna are managed by NOAA under the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, finalized in July 2006. This is a revision of the original Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish and Sharks adopted in 1999.

There are seven quota categories for U.S. bluefin catch: general (includes rod & reel, handline), harpoon, longline, trap, purse seine, angling and reserve. General category fishermen have the biggest quota allocation, followed by the purse seiners.  The purse seine category is limited access – only five boats are permitted to land bluefin in U.S. waters with purse seine gear. The longline category is for incidentally caught bluefin only; bluefin can not be targeted with longline gear in U.S. waters.

The bluefin fishery is further regulated by size limits, bag limits, and quota suballocation according to time period, geography and fish size. Regulations change mid-season, and permit holders are notified of changes via fax or e-mail.

The 2011 U.S. quota is 957.4 MT. Current commercial landings are shown in the table below. Note that the quota in the table is less than the total quota because it does not include the 182 MT allocated to the Angling Category. For more information on current regulations and landings, click here.

Current Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Landings (As of July 31, 2011)





 Number of Fish 



 Gross Weight  





 of Quota  


 General 698  269.6   85.3  435.1  19.6%
 Handline 4 331.5 0.6 
 Harpoon 276 264.5 33.1 
Rod & Reel 418 272.4 51.6
Harpoon - 208 266.8 25.2 36.0 70.0%
Longline - 239 466 50.5 86.1 58.7%
NED 5 665.6 1.5 25.0 6.0%
North 100 425.9 19.3 24.4 79.1%
South 134 488.4 29.7 36.7 80.9%
Trap - 0.9 0%
Purse Seine - 171.8 0%
Reserve - 70.6 0%
Total   1145 310.0 161.0 800.4 20.1%


The U.S. fishery has undercaught its quota for 7 years now (Figure 1), and although the 2011 fishery has rebounded somewhat (Figure 2), catch levels are still low relative to the years prior to 2005 when many additional management restrictions were in place to ensure the U.S. did not exceed its allowable catch.  Now U.S. fishermen have far fewer restrictions but are still falling short of the quota.

Figure 1. U.S. harvest (green) relative to quota (dark green).

Figure 2. Cumulative U.S. commercial landings by month. 2010-11 landings show an uptick in the fishery, but catch levels are still low relative to years prior to 2005.


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