Yellowfin tuna are found in tropical
and subtropical oceans around the
world. They’re highly migratory,
capable of swimming across an
entire ocean (and across
international borders). Unlike
non-migratory species that are
only found off our coasts, we’re
not the only ones fishing for yellowfin tuna. Fisheries for these species require both strong
domestic management and international cooperation to ensure the resource is abundant and
global harvests are sustainable. The United States is an active member of the International
Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and negotiates with other member
nations to enhance international management of yellowfin tuna (along with other tunas, billfish, and
Yellowfin tuna is the top tropical tuna harvested by U.S. fishermen in the Atlantic. More than half of
this catch comes from our longline fisheries, which operate in the northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico,
and Caribbean. Longlines are often negatively portrayed for their potential to unintentionally catch
sea turtles and marine mammals. However, in U.S. longline fisheries, fishermen abide by a
number of measures that reduce the fisheries’ impacts on other species. These measures include
mandatory use of special hooks and baits to reduce bycatch of depleted bluefin tuna, billfish, and
sea turtles. When fishermen do accidentally hook a protected species, they carry gear and are
trained in handling techniques to dehook species and safely return them to the water. Scientists
and managers regularly monitor bycatch in these fisheries and review data for appropriate action
as necessary, ensuring U.S. fishermen continue to responsibly harvest yellowfin tuna. U.S.
fishermen also harvest yellowfin tuna in similarly highly regulated fisheries in the Pacific.
LOCATION & HABITAT
Yellowfin tuna are found near the surface of tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. They
are highly migratory and can swim across an entire ocean. Juvenile yellowfin tuna travel in schools
with skipjack and juvenile bigeye tuna.
Yellowfin tuna grow fairly fast, up to 400 pounds, and have a somewhat short life span of about 7
years. Most yellowfin tuna are able to reproduce when they reach age 2 or 3. In the western Atlantic,
they spawn from May to August in the Gulf of Mexico and from July to November in the southeastern
Caribbean; in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, they spawn from October to March in the Gulf of Guinea
and from April to June off Senegal. Females spawn about once every 3 days during spawning
season. They produce an average of 1 million to 4 million eggs.
Yellowfin tuna feed near the top of the food chain on fish, squid, and crustaceans. They are also
prey for top predators such as sharks and large fish.
Yellowfin tuna are a torpedo-shaped fish. They’re metallic dark blue on the back and upper sides,
and change from yellow to silver on the belly. True to their name, their dorsal and anal fins and
finlets are bright yellow.
Tunas are difficult to distinguish – they’re similar in shape and are often caught together. Yellowfin
can be distinguished from other tunas by its long, bright-yellow dorsal fin and a yellow strip down its
side. It’s also more slender than bluefin.
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