The albacore, Thunnus alalunga, is a species of tuna in the family Scombridae. This species is also called albacore fish, albacore tuna, albicore, albie, pigfish, tombo ahi, binnaga, Pacific albacore, German bonito (but see bonito), longfin, longfin tuna, longfin tunny, or even just tuna. It is the only tuna species which may be marketed as “white meat tuna” in the United States. It is found in the open waters of all tropical and temperate oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Albacore is a prized food, and the albacore fishery is economically significant. Methods of fishing include pole and line, long-line fishing, trolling, and some purse seining. It is also sought after by sport fishers.
- 1 Life cycle
- 2 Genetic variation from other tuna species
- 3 Diet
- 4 Migration and behavior
- 5 Anatomy and physical description
- 6 Other species called albacore
- 7 Consumers, albacore, and sustainable fisheries
- 8 Root of endangerment
- 9 Efforts to prevent albacore tuna extinction
- 10 Mercury levels
- 11 Supply
- 12 Fisheries of Pacific Islands and territories
- 13 Gallery
- 14 Notes
- 15 Other references
- 16 External links
During spawning, females produce between 800,000 and 2.6 million eggs which hatch in about one or two days. After the eggs hatch, the fish begin to grow quickly and they remain close to the place where they were born for the first year of their life. They begin to migrate after their first year. Albacore tuna have a life span of 11 to 12 years, but they reach reproductive maturity at around five to six years.
Despite having no sexual dimorphism, tuna are dioecious (males and females have different sexual organs). Oddly, a large majority of tuna have heavier and larger right testes and ovaries, in males and females respectively. Their eggs, which mature and hatch outside of the female’s body, are typically restricted to the months from November to February for spawning. Albacore have asynchronous oocyte development. An oocyte, which is nothing more than an immature egg cell, does not develop at regular intervals in albacore. The creation of ovum, known as ooegenesis, begins with the rapid production of oogonia (an undifferentiated germ cell that gives rise to oocytes) by mitotic separations in the oogonial nests of female tuna. The resulting oocytes are cast en masse into the sea where full development and later fertilization take place.
Genetic variation from other tuna species
Not only do albacore differ genetically from other tuna species, they also differ to some degree among themselves. The variation in six specific nucleotide sites (organic molecules that form the basic building blocks of nucleic acids) differentiate each species of tuna. In the nucleotide positions 35, 62, 68, 89, 227, and 260, albacore have guanine, thymine, cytosine/guanine, guanine, adenine, and thymine, respectively. They differ from black fin tuna who have thymine, guanine, and cytosine at the corresponding 68, 89, 227, and 260 positions. Similarly, albacore are different from yellowfin tuna in all but two of the six nucleotide positions, 35 and 260, and hold even less genetic commonality with the bigeye tuna, which is only identical in the 260 position. The inter-variance that occurs between albacore is a result of this 68 nucleotide position that can be either cytosine or guanine. No visible external difference can be noted between albacore who have cytosine at the 68 position, and those who have guanine at the same nucleotide site.
Albacore tuna are pelagic predators, or in other words open-sea hunters. Their diets vary very little during the different seasons. Distinct from its two counterparts bigeye and yellowfin tuna that primarily eat fish, albacore tuna’s main source of food is cephalopods. Cephalopods, which are also eaten by the other two species of tuna, albeit in smaller proportion, are members of the molluscan class Cephalopoda. The most abundant cephalopods in its diet are Heteroteuthis dispar (a tiny deep water squid found in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean). Other food sources of the albacore include fish, crustaceans, and gelatinous organisms. A lot is unknown about the food pattern of albacore tuna however, mostly due to the fact that they dive over 400 meters underwater when searching for food, and tagging and tracking them has been unsuccessful thus far.
Migration and behavior
The North Pacific albacore migrate to two regions of the Northeast Pacific. One area is off the northern part of Baja California, Mexico and the other is off the coast of Washington and Oregon. In Baja California and Washington and Oregon a broad range of Albacore tuna show behavioral differences. In Baja California, the tuna make frequent dives to depths exceeding 200m or 656 feet during the day and stay near the surface at night, while off the coast of Washington and Oregon the tuna stay near the surface the entire day. The albacore never really rest; they must always be on the move because of their demand for oxygen. Due to so much energy being used by the constant movement, a typical tuna may eat one-quarter its own weight in food in one day. The Northeast Albacore tuna performs feeding migrations to productive areas of the Northeast Atlantic ocean during the summer time. Due to climate change over the last 40 years, the timing and spatial distribution of the Albacore tuna has also changed. Every summer the North Atlantic Albacore tuna heads to the Bay of Biscay located to the west of France and north of Spain. Because of the change in climate the Albacore tuna now arrives about 8 days earlier than they did within the last 40 years.
Anatomy and physical description
The Albacore tuna has a pectoral fin that is extremely long and extends well beyond the front of the anal fin except in tuna under 1 feet. The average size of the Albacore tuna is about 4 1/2 feet and can weigh up to 133 lbs. The Albacore’s finnage consists of 7-9 dorsal finlets, 7-8 anal finlets, and 25-31 gill rakers. The Albacore tuna is dark blue above or on top, and shades of silvery white below. The first dorsal fin is a deep yellow. The second dorsal fin and the anal fin are a light yellow. The caudal fin is white-edged, while the anal finlets are dark.
Other species called albacore
In some parts of the world, other species may be called “albacore”:
- Blackfin tuna Thunnus atlanticus (albacore)
- Yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares (albacore, autumn albacore, yellowfinned albacore)
- Yellowtail amberjack Seriola lalandi (albacore)
- Kawakawa Euthynnus affinis (false albacore)
- Little tunny Euthynnus alletteratus (false albacore)
Consumers, albacore, and sustainable fisheries
A number of programs have been developed to help consumers identify and support responsible and sustainable fisheries. Perhaps the most widely accepted of these programs is that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Several albacore fisheries have been certified as sustainable according to MSC standards, including the U.S. North and South Pacific albacore pole & line and troll/jig fisheries (“pole & troll”), Canadian North Pacific troll fishery, and the New Zealand South Pacific troll fishery.
The United States government’s “Fishwatch” program seeks to provide consumers with accurate and timely information on U.S. seafood fisheries.
In 2010, Greenpeace International added the Albacore to its “seafood red list”. “The Greenpeace International seafood red list is a list of fish that are commonly sold in supermarkets around the world, and which have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries.”
Root of endangerment
With the beginning of the 20th Century, so began the hunting and killing of albacore tuna for commercial use. The migratory patterns of the fish brought droves of albacore schools near the coastline of Southern California which sparked the start of commercial albacore fishing. In 1903, 700 cases of albacore were used as an experimental pack which ultimately lead to the development of the U.S. tuna canning industry. The experiment was a huge success and the commercial fishery expanded rapidly due to the high level of demand for canned tuna. The demand for tuna became higher than the supply of tuna, causing a significant loss in the albacore tuna population. By the 1920s, the industry expanded further and 3 other species of tuna, bluefin, yellowfin, and skipjack, were also being canned. However, the canning of other tuna species did not help the recovery of albacore tuna populations because it is the only tuna species that can be marketed as “white meat tuna”. Fisheries use this label as a way to charge a premium price at the dock and in the can. Over the years, demand for canned tuna continued to rise causing fisheries to resort to using “ranching” methods. Ranching is the process of catching young tuna from the wild and keeping them alive in captivity with artificial feeding. Albacore tuna are kept in captivity until they become full grown, at which time they are killed and their meat is used for canned tuna.
Efforts to prevent albacore tuna extinction
Population numbers of albacore tuna are plummeting fast due to growing human populations and rising food demands. However, conservationists have been making strides to help strengthen the species. Scientists have begun breaking ground on better forms of long-term protection of tuna such by including electronic tag data, genetics and microchemistry in their efforts. The re-creation of the electronic tag is expected to play a huge part in the conservation of albacore tuna as it is far more advanced than previous electronic tag devices. In the new tags, trackers record fish depth and sea temperature every few minutes.
Like other fish, albacore accumulates methylmercury in body tissue over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may remain in a woman from before she becomes pregnant. Ranging from as low as .027 ppm (parts per million) to .26 ppm, the average total mercury content of albacore is .14 ± .05 ppm. As one would assume, larger fish tend to have higher methylmercury levels. For the most part, there is positive correlation between an albacore’s methylmercury measurement and its weight and length.
Recent studies from the U.S. and Canada show that the albacore caught by the American albacore fishing fleet off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California have far lower mercury levels than in previous years. In fact, albacore methylmercury levels are well below the 1.0 ppm mercury standard set by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA). Nevertheless, since mercury does take time to be removed from the body, albacore tuna should be eaten in moderation.
Harmful effects of mercury on humans
With both high and low levels of exposure to it, mercury can be extremely harmful to people. Infants with higher prenatal exposure to mercury than the FDA suggested level have delayed psychomotor development (the relationship between cognitive functions and physical movement) in the first year of life. Higher exposure to mercury (not prenatal) can have even more dire consequences. These include, but are not limited to: loss of neurons in the brain lobes, blindness, deafness, and mental retardation.
Management and stock assessment are applied to separate stocks of albacore believed to occur in the North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, North Atlantic and South Atlantic.
SeaChoice ranks albacore as a “best choice” for consumers, although notes some “moderate concerns” regarding the management effectiveness (in particular, no definitive assessment of the albacore stock of the Indian Ocean fishery has taken place), and “moderate concern” over the fishing stock, especially regarding the North Atlantic albacore population, which the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) considers overfished with overfishing still occurring. The southern Atlantic stock is also considered (in 2007) overfished but not currently experiencing overfishing. The North Pacific and South Pacific albacore stocks are not overfished and are not experiencing overfishing.
Fisheries of Pacific Islands and territories
Many Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) heavily rely on oceanic fisheries for economic development and food security. The Albacore tuna is one of the main four species of tuna that support oceanic fisheries along with the skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna, and the bigeye tuna. Domestic tuna fleets and local fish processing operations contribute from 3-20% of the gross domestic product in four PICTs. License fees from foreign ships provide an average of 3-40% of government revenue for seven different PICTs. Processing facilities and tuna fishing vessels provide more than 12,000 jobs for workers in the Pacific Islands. Fish provide 50-90% of dietary animal protein in rural areas of PICTs.
Lightly cooked albacore steak
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- Marine Stewardship Council (international independent certification of sustainable fisheries)
- American Albacore Fishing Association (MSC certified Pacific U.S. “pole & troll” albacore)
- Wild Pacific Albacore
- NOAA Fishwatch
- American Fishermens Research Foundation
- Western Fishboat Owners Association
- TIME MAGAZINE: The Danger of Not Eating Tuna
- Etymology of “albacore”
- FishBase info for albacore
- Communicating FDA advice on consumption of albacore tuna.
- Albacore by R. Michael Laurs and Ronald C. Dotson, 1992, retrieved January 19, 2006.
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