Tuna Management

Tunas spend their lives traveling throughout the high seas and the waters of dozens of nations. Because of their highly migratory nature, a global and interconnected framework of organizations and policies is in place for managing tuna stocks around the world.

The tuna industry – including America’s leading tuna companies, Bumble Bee®, Chicken of the Sea® and StarKist® – are strongly committed to effective, science-based tuna stock management, responsible fishing and long-term sustainability. The health of our industry and our livelihoods depends upon it.

Dive Deeper

The Role of the Tuna Industry

The major U.S. tuna brands are among the most passionate and active advocates of effective tuna stock management and long-term sustainability.

Tuna companies work in partnership with international regulatory groups – such as Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) – to study and analyze fishing trends, recommend new policies aimed at ensuring responsible, sustainable fishing and uphold conservation measures among industry partners.

Some specific actions that America’s tuna companies have taken to ensure responsible tuna stock management include calling for fishing moratoriums to help replenish stocks, dedicating funds and research to new fishing technologies to reduce by-catch and protect marine life and enacting standards to source only legally caught and reported tuna.

The Role of the United Nations

The United Nations (U.N.) is responsible for setting overall policies and guidelines for the management of fisheries – including tuna fisheries – around the world.

Adopted in 1982 and put into force in 1994, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) is considered a “constitution for the oceans”.

UNCLOS established basic codes of conduct for the world’s oceans including delineating jurisdictions, setting rules for navigation and providing guidelines for the conservation and management of living marine resources and the marine environment.

UNCLOS also established Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for “coastal states” – or countries that border bodies of water. These zones extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline. Within these zones, coastal states have certain exclusive rights and responsibilities including fishing and the enforcement of environmental laws.

While UNCLOS addressed species that stayed close to the shores of coastal states, new provisions were needed to address highly migratory species, such as tuna, which might pass through or inhabit areas outside the jurisdictions of coastal states.

Adopted in 1995 and entering into force in late 2001, the U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) specifically addressed the management of highly migratory species like tuna. This agreement placed the responsibility of tuna stock management with international organizations such as RFMOs.

Additionally, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is involved in the development, implementation and information-sharing component of high seas fisheries management.

The Role of Coastal States

Coastal states cooperate with the policies established by the U.N. and other international organizations, but also make and enforce specific rules for fisheries management within their territory. In this way, coastal states act as both lawmaker and policeman for fisheries management.

The United States is a coastal state. It is a country that shares borders with oceanic waters including the Atlantic Ocean in the east, the Pacific Ocean in the west, the Gulf of Mexico to the south and even the Artic Ocean and Bering Sea off of Alaska to the north – though tuna is not found in these cold waters.

All coastal states, as established by UNCLOS, have Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). These zones extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline.

Within EEZs, coastal states are in charge of their own fisheries management. They have exclusive rights to marine resources in the area, such as the fishing of tuna and other seafood. They are also responsible for the conservation and management of the marine life and environment in their EEZs. They set the rules for fisheries management and are also in charge of enforcing them.

As part of the global management structure, coastal states also cooperate with the regulations established by RFMOs.

The conservation and management responsibilities of coastal states include:

  • cooperating with other countries in the creation of compatible conservation and management measures for fishing on the high seas
  • determining the total allowable catch of tuna and other seafood within its EEZ
  • ensuring that tuna and other marine creatures are not over-fished
  • maintaining or restoring fisheries at levels which can produce maximum sustainable yield

The Role of RFMOs

Because many species of sea life, including tuna, may travel through and live outside the 200 mile jurisdiction of coastal state EEZs, other measures were needed to manage marine life and environment on the high seas.

Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are the international bodies charged with the management of fishing activities and fish stocks on the high seas, as well as fish stocks that migrate through the waters of more than one state. They are made up of representatives from the many countries that border or otherwise utilize an oceanic fishing zone.

There are five RFMOs that focus on tuna fishing and tuna stocks throughout the world:

Though each RFMO has different member states, jurisdictions and constitutions, the following measures are representative of the types of tools upon which they rely to evaluate and encourage conservation when necessary:

  • Collecting and distributing fishery statistics
  • Providing evaluations of the state of fish stocks in their area of jurisdiction
  • Determining total allowable catch quotas
  • Setting limits on the number and size of vessels allowed to operate in the fishery
  • Allocating fishing opportunities to participating RFMO countries
  • Regulating the types of gear used
  • Conducting inspections to ensure compliance
  • Monitoring and enforcing adherence to the rules of the RFMO
  • Overseeing the scientific research conducted within the fishery
  • Providing a forum for the discussion of issues relevant to conservation objectives

RFMOs are the experts on a particular fishery and the issues surrounding its conservation and management. These bodies advise member states that ultimately have legislative and enforcement power.

Case Study: The United States

Want to know how marine ecosystems and fisheries are managed here in the United States? Let’s take a look:

Like all coastal states, the U.S. maintains an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ) that extends up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline.


Case Study: The United States

Like all coastal states, the U.S. maintains an ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ) that extends up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline. Within this zone, the U.S. has exclusive rights to fishing and marine resources – but is also responsible for preserving the marine ecosystem and upholding sustainable fishing standards.

The National Marine Fisheries Service leads U.S. fisheries management by conducting scientific research, enforcing laws and overseeing habitat conservation. It is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

As part of NOAA, the National Marine Fisheries Service works with other government entities to fulfill its duties such as NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard for law enforcement, NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research for habitat conservation and NOAA Office of Sustainable Fisheries to maintain healthy fish stocks.

The U.S. also works with other international organizations, like the U.N. and RFMOs, to create and enforce international fishing regulations, combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, build partnerships to improve marine conservation, control fishing capacity, increase assistance to developing states and strengthen regional fisheries conservation.