Fishing Regulations for Pacific Bluefin Tuna Slated to Change in Summer 2015

Pacific bluefin tuna.   photo courtesy NOAA

At its April 8, 2015 meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission adopted a reduced two-fish recreational daily bag limit for Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) as well as new requirements for filleting tuna on vessels south of Point Conception. These regulation changes will conform to new federal regulations and become effective when published in the California Regulatory Notice Register this summer. CDFW anticipates that federal and state regulations will have the same effective date when the final federal rule is published. These recreational fishing regulation changes complement reductions in commercial catch allowances reached through international treaty agreement with the U.S. and other treaty nations.

The proposed federal rule was published on April 21, 2015, and the public comment period that followed closed on May 6, 2015. Comments and the final rule are currently under review by NOAA Fisheries. The final rule was not published in time for inclusion in the annual California Sport Fishing Regulations Supplement as originally anticipated. The final state and federal rules are expected to become effective concurrently during summer, 2015. Once the new recreational fishing regulations are in effect, CDFW will distribute a press release announcing the changes and the new state regulations will be posted online.

Proposed Regulations

Due to concerns over population decline, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) examined a suite of take reduction options in November, 2014 for recreational Pacific bluefin tuna fishing off the West Coast. The PFMC recommended that NOAA Fisheries reduce the recreational daily bag limit from 10 fish per person to two fish per person, with a maximum possession limit of six fish with proper documentation for multi-day trips. This will reduce the U.S. recreational catch of bluefin tuna by an estimated 30 percent. The new bag limit will affect anglers fishing in U.S. waters, as well as anglers that fish in Mexico and land their catch in California.

filleted tuna
Tuna filleted according to proposed regulations

Fillet rules for tuna will also change to allow identification of species by law enforcement, biologists, and anglers. With input from agency scientists, law enforcement, and the fishing industry, the PFMC adopted new fillet requirements for all tuna species possessed south of Point Conception. This will require that all filleted tuna be cut into six pieces, with the skin attached. These pieces are:

  • The four loins (two upper and two lower)
  • The belly fillet including the pelvic fins and urogenital vent
  • The collar with pectoral fins attached

Each fish must be placed in its own bag and labeled with the species’ common name. Tunas may also be kept whole, or in a manner that retains these identifying characteristics.

The Management Process

The U.S. is party to two international regional fishery management organizations in the Pacific: the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. These commissions rely on the scientific advice provided by their staff and the analyses of the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific (ISC) to develop and adopt international resolutions for conservation and management measures. Working with the Department of State, NOAA Fisheries domestically implements these conservation and management measures under the authority of the Tuna Conventions Act.

The ISC has concluded that Pacific bluefin tuna is both overfished and subject to overfishing. According to the 2012 stock assessment, the estimated Pacific bluefin tuna spawning stock biomass is at less than four percent of the level it would have been had the stock never been fished, and has been declining for more than a decade.

In 2014, the international commissions adopted commercial conservation and management measures to address the overfishing of Pacific bluefin tuna. Management recommendations in IATTC Resolution C-14-06 call for the reduction of all Pacific bluefin tuna catch by 20 to 45 percent of the 2002 to 2004 average for Pacific-wide landings. The resolution reduces commercial limits for the Eastern Pacific Ocean, namely Mexico and the U.S., from 5,000 metric tons (mt) in 2014 to 6,600 mt for 2015 and 2016 combined, with less than 3,500 mt allowed in 2015.

The commercial catch limit for the U.S. specifically was reduced from 500 mt in 2014 to a two-year catch limit of 600 mt for 2015 and 2016 combined. In its final rule, NOAA Fisheries may include additional restrictions such as trip limits and triggers to slow down the commercial fishery as it nears the catch limit each year.

Negotiations allowed the catch limits for the California recreational fishery to remain outside of the IATTC’s actions with the understanding that federal fishery managers would aim for a similar reduction in recreational take.

Lots of Tuna?

If you went tuna fishing off the California coast within the past year, you may have been one of the lucky individuals to spot large schools of Pacific bluefin tuna. Although it may seem logical that large numbers of fish off our coast equate to a large and healthy population, there are many additional factors that make the situation more complex.

While fish seen here off the West Coast are locally abundant, these fish are part of a single Pacific Ocean-wide stock that spawns in the Western Pacific Ocean. Stock assessment data indicates spawning biomass in the Western Pacific is declining. Higher numbers seen in California may be due to an increased proportion of juvenile fish migrating here, or the amount of time they spend in the Eastern Pacific may be increasing.

For more information about tuna species that frequent the California coastline, and the latest information about tuna regulation changes, please visit the CDFW website.

post by Mandy Lewis, CDFW Environmental Scientist    Bluefin tuna photo courtesy NOAA; CDFW tuna fillet photo