Learn about Atlantic bluefin tuna

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the largest bony fish in the world. Read on to learn more about this popular species, as well as tips for fishing.

Appearance

  • Atlantic bluefin tuna can reach 10 feet in length and 1,000 pounds. Most adults are around 200 pounds at 10 years of age. They are a deep blue on the dorsals with a silvery belly. White-grey spots can appear on the belly. The front dorsal fin is yellow or blue while the second is brown or red.
  • The Atlantic bluefin tuna's body is fusiform, or tapered at both ends like a football. Bluefin tuna have a pointed snout and eyes smaller than other tuna species. The tuna's fins fit into slots on the body that reduce drag while swimming. Fishermen often confuse bluefin tuna with yellowfin tuna.
Bluefin tuna

Atlantic bluefin tuna facts

  • Species name: Thunnus thynnus
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna prey on mackerel, sand lance, sea herring, and squid. When those species are absent, bluefin tuna will eat whatever they come across. This includes sea stars and kelp. On the other end, sharks and whales prey on bluefin tuna. Seabirds tend to feed on young bluefin tuna.
  • We know¬†little about where bluefin tuna tend to give birth. They have spawned in two known areas of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna reach maturity at about three years when in human care. Females can produce up to 25 million eggs per year, depending on the female's size. The eggs travel along the currents and hatch when they are about a foot long. Once between 90 and 130 pounds, bluefin tuna split into schools based on size. The schools can consist of other species like yellowfin, bonito, and skipjack tunas.
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna are ram ventilators. This means they must keep moving to stay alive. They get close to the shore depending on the season. They have been spotted from the ocean's surface to more than 3,000 feet below.
  • Atlantic bluefin tuna was not a target species on the United States east coast early in the 20th century. Yet the second half of the century saw stock reductions in bluefin tuna, prompting management measures.
  • Since the late 1940s, Massachusetts has been one of the top states for commercial landings of bluefin tuna. Commercial fishermen are not allowed to use longlines to target bluefin tuna. Yet strict regulations allow for a limited number of bluefin tuna caught by accident to be kept.
  • Bluefin tuna live in both subtropic and temperate waters. In the western Atlantic Ocean, fishermen find bluefin tuna from Labrador, Canada to northern Brazil. Bluefin tuna can cross the Atlantic in less than 60 days.
bluefin tuna distribution map

Angling tips

  • Bluefin tuna are a prized sport fish to many anglers. Use a sturdy rod with a high-quality reel and test line when fishing for a giant bluefin tuna.
  • You can catch bluefin tuna by trolling with rigged natural baits, such as artificial squid, or chunks of prey, like mackerel. Catch rates are low, so do not be discouraged if you struggle at first.
  • For smaller bluefin tuna, anglers will downsize the gear, increase the troll speed and use bright hook lures to attract schooling tuna.
  • Once harvested, bleed and chill the bluefin tuna quickly. Lift the pectoral fins and make a one-inch incision to cut the cutaneous veins and arteries along the lateral line. Carefully gut the fish soon after capture.
  • A valuable fish, bluefin tuna is popular in sushi and tuna steaks. The meat is the fattiest of any tuna species.

For more information on Atlantic bluefin tuna, contact Dr. Gregory Skomal at (508) 990-2860 x 136 or gregory.skomal@state.ma.us.

Additional Resources

Recreational permits

**For regulations on seasons and catch limits, please contact NOAA Fisheries directly (click here). To purchase an Atlantic Highly Migratory Species permit, please click here.**

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