FAO Home>Fisheries & Aquaculture
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsfor a world without hunger
Fishing in the Southeast Pacific Ocean
Fishing in the Southeast Pacific Ocean
Courtesy of NOAA

This topic provides a general overview of tuna fisheries; see the most up-to-date information in the Fishery Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS): World Global Tuna Fisheries.

Table of Contents

Fisheries and farming

Historical trends

Tuna fisheries are among oldest in the world with Phoenician trap fisheries for Atlantic bluefin tuna operating around 2000 BC. However, until the 2nd part of XX century, fishing occurred mostly in coastal areas. Industrial fisheries started during the 1940’s and 1950’s as a result of increasing demand for canned tuna. Particularly after 1952, tuna fisheries expanded rapidly into oceanic areas initially in the Pacific and in the late 1950’s, also in the Atlantic, including the Indian Ocean in the 1980’s.

Tuna ensnared near the mouth of the fish trap (at the depth 25 meters).This tuna weighed 270 kilograms (approximately 600 pounds.)
Tuna ensnared near the mouth of the fish trap (at the depth 25 meters).
Courtesy of Danilo Cedrone

Present status

At present, on the industrial scale, tuna and tuna-like species are mainly caught with purse seines, longlines and pole and lines. Industrial tuna fisheries are extremely dynamic and especially distant-water fishing fleets can react very quickly to changes in stock sizes or market conditions. Small-scale longlining for the sashimi market is increasingly being used by Taiwan Province of China and mainland China as well as other developing countries. This and the intensification of artisanal fisheries contribute to a general trend of rapidly increasing importance of coastal developing countries (including island countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans) in tuna fishing.
The most up-to-date review of the state of global Tuna and Tuna like resources is available in the Fishery Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS): Tuna and tuna-like species - Global.


Tuna farming started in the 1990s. Bluefin tunas are the main species used in farming. The countries involved include Australia, Japan, Mexico and several Mediterranean countries (particularly Croatia, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Spain and Turkey). Tuna farming has many implications including a possibility of getting higher prices for small fish that otherwise would not be suitable for sashimi, encouraging their higher catches, if they are not properly controlled. At the same time, on the sashimi market, the fattened tuna compete with lower quality tuna from longliners. Also, tuna farming makes the reliable estimation of tuna catches much more difficult.



Magnitude and species contributions

Catches of tuna and tuna-like species tend to increase continuously with some fluctuations and increases generally becoming smaller in recent years, reaching about 9.5 million tonnes per year. The global production of the principal market tunas also increased relatively steadily.

Catches of tropical tunas like skipjack and yellowfin, but also bigeye contribute most to the total catch of the principal market tuna species. The catches of temperate species of albacore and bluefins are smaller.


Recently, the principal market tuna catches of Japan and Taiwan Province of China become largest among all countries. Other important tuna fishing countries include Indonesia, the Philippines, Spain, Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, France, Ecuador, Mexico, Maldives, Islamic Republic of Iran, United States of America, Seychelles, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Colombia, China, Vanuatu, Panama and Ghana.

The top two data sets listed below are specifically for tuna and in the case of the 2nd data set, also for some billfishes. They contain data obtained mostly from the tuna Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The last data set presents mostly official national statistics for all fish species including tuna and billfishes.
European purse-seiner during a fishing set.
European purse-seiner during a fishing set.
Courtesy of Philippe Gleveau

Fisheries management



On regional scales, countries fishing tuna and tuna-like species cooperate on fisheries research, conservation and fisheries management within international frameworks of particularly tuna fisheries bodies (see below). Cooperation must also extend beyond the scale of single oceans because:
• industrial tuna fleets are highly mobile,
• the principal market tunas are intensively traded on the global scale and
• many tuna research, conservation and management problems are similar in all oceans.

An important example of such collaboration is the formulation, in 1995, of the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (referred to as the UN Fish Stocks Agreement). The Agreement and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (formulated within the framework of FAO) pose new requirements for conservation, conservation and fisheries management, technology and research for tuna and tuna-like species.


The prime conservation problem for tunas is the depletion of some stocks of bluefin. Several years ago, a consideration was given to listing bluefin on one of the Appendixes of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which would have major implications for the trade of the species. Some other tuna stock also merit close attention from the conservation view point. However, generally with the exception of bluefin, serious over-fishing has been largely avoided for various reasons including the high productivity of tuna species and the economics of tuna fisheries (e.g., the relatively recent global over-production of some tunas for canning led to drastic reduction of their prices below those economical for fishing). With the fully and over-exploited status of most stocks of tuna, more concerns related to tuna conservation and fisheries management are likely to arise in the future.

With the present stock status, the catches of principal market tunas should not increase on the global scale in a near future unless future technological developments will allow increasing catches of skipjack (moderately exploited in some oceans) without increasing those of bigeye and yellowfin (fully or over-exploited) with which skipjack is frequently caught together. Generally, the multi-species nature of tuna fisheries complicates their management.

Improvements in the yield of tuna might be achieved in some cases by protecting small or immature fish and targeting older age groups. Problems occur with compliance to some size regulations. The intensification of fishing around fish aggregating devises (FADs) also raises concerns because such fishing tends to result in large catches of small fish.

The magnitude of incidentally caught species (by-catch), their discards, catches of small individuals of target species and the status of stocks of the by-catch species have been another area of concern. Generally, by-catches of tuna fisheries are relatively small. However, they include species of dolphins, turtles, seabirds and sharks, which receive high attention from the international community.

Fisheries management measures

There are various management measures imposed for tuna fisheries on regional scales, particularly in areas where tuna fishery bodies have been operational for a long time. This is the case in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea (ICCAT) and the eastern tropical Pacific (IATTC). They include size limits, fishing effort restrains, catch limits, seasonal and geographical closures and restrictions on the use of FADs.



Utilisation and trade

International trade in tuna products plays an important part in world trade, accounting for about 9% of export value. Main importing countries of tuna products are Japan, USA and several EU countries. The trade includes sashimi tuna, canning raw material and canned tuna. In addition, specialty products are finding more and more a slot in international fish trade.

Thailand and Japan are the world’s major fresh and frozen tuna importers, but while Thailand is expanding its imports, the importance of fresh and frozen tuna imports is declining. The USA continues to be the main canned tuna importing country. European countries are also among the top canned tuna importers, with a strong increases in imports experienced by all main importing countries.

For further information, see:
• TUNA Commodity updates at http://www.globefish.org/index.php?id=215
• Tuna market reports http://www.globefish.org/dynamisk.php4?id=4559
• Global World Tuna Markets at http://www.globefish.org/dynamisk.php4?id=3005
• INFOFISH Tuna Trade Conference Proceedings at http://www.infofish.org/tunavideo.html

Tuna auction at Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as the Tsukiji Market.
Tuna auction at Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, commonly known as the Tsukiji Market.
Courtesy of Prof. Chin-Hwa Jenny Sun

Other involved institutions

In addition to the above-mentioned information, websites of the tuna fishery bodies and other international and national institutions have a lot of information on the species, particularly on regional scales. Tuna-org is as an informal framework for sharing information from the tuna bodies listed below. The websites of the Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) contain additional information on the species in the western and central Pacific. Atuna is the gateway to the global tuna business and provides its customers with continuously updated tuna market news and information.

FAO, 2010. Competence areas of Tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations
FAO, 2010. Competence areas of Tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations
Powered by FIGIS