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Canadian Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (thunnus thynnus)- NAFO Fishing Areas 3KLNOP, 4RSTVWX and 5YZ - 2017


Where DFO is responsible for implementing obligations under land claims agreements, the IFMP will be implemented in a manner consistent with these obligations. In the event that an IFMP is inconsistent with obligations under land claims agreements, the provisions of the land claims agreements will prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.

This IFMP is not a legally binding instrument, which can form the basis of a legal challenge. The IFMP can be modified at any time and does not fetter the Minister's discretionary powers set out in the Fisheries Act. The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reasons, modify any provision of the IFMP in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.

1. Overview of the fishery


Atlantic Bluefin tuna are a highly migratory species. As such, they are managed under the jurisdiction of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Canada is one of 52 Contracting Parties at ICCAT.

While some of the initial concerns which led to the creation of ICCAT stemmed from the eastern Atlantic, it was the western Atlantic where management measures were first concentrated, given longline and purse seine catches had both increased from around 100t each in the late 1950s to 12,000t and 5,000t respectively in 1964. The 1981 Recommendation [Rec. 81-01] set out specific requirements for the western Atlantic Bluefin stock, including a total allowable catch limit, and continued the 1974 minimal size limit of 6.4 kg for all Bluefin tuna. New Regulations for the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Catch [1983] [82-01], pertaining again mainly to Bluefin tuna fisheries in the western Atlantic, were adopted in 1982. These regulations continued with gradual refinements until 1986, by which time the measures included a closure of the fishery during the spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico and additional requirements in relation to minimum size. These measures were extended annually by the Commission until 1990.

In 1991, the Commission adopted the Recommendation by ICCAT for the Enhancement of the Current Management of Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna [Rec. 91-01], which specified the individual country catch limits in the body of the text for the first time. It also agreed to proceed to tag all Atlantic Bluefin tuna harvested and available for sale and implement a system whereby the import of all Bluefin tuna had to be accompanied by a certificate of origin. In 1992 the Commission adopted the Recommendation by ICCAT Concerning the ICCAT Bluefin Tuna Statistical Document Program [Rec. 92-01], which required all imported Bluefin tuna to be accompanied by an ICCAT Statistical Document, with the double aim of estimating the real level of catches and reducing catches taken in a manner which could undermine the ICCAT conservation and management measures.

In 1998, recognising that the western stock of Bluefin tuna was over-exploited, the Commission adopted a twenty-year rebuilding plan which began in 1999. The plan set a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) that was modifiable in accordance with scientific advice, a closed area during the spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico, and a sharing arrangement based on percentage shares of the TAC. A new measure, adopted in 2008, further reduced the TAC of western Atlantic Bluefin tuna. Between 2007 and 2017, the TAC has been established at levels to promote the rebuilding of the stock. The TAC was increased to 2000t in 2015 and further increased to 2350t per year for the 2018-2020 seasons due to positive results of the 2017 stock assessment (see Table 1).

Table 1. Total Allowable Catch levels from 1995-2020
Year TAC (tonnes)
1995-1996 2200
1997-1998 2354
1999-2002 2500
2003-2006 2700
2007-2008 2100
2009 1900
2010 1800
2011-2014 1750
2015-2017 2000
2018-2020 2350

Types of fisheries

  1. Commercial – Undertaken in all four Fisheries and Oceans east coast regions (Maritimes, Gulf, Quebec, and Newfoundland & Labrador) with the largest number of licence holders found in the Gulf region.
  2. Hook and Release (Charter) – The catch and release fishery primarily occurs in the Gulf region.
  3. Tournaments – Two sport fishing tournaments take place in Atlantic Canada each year that allow retention of a limited number of fish. The Wedgeport Tournament in Nova Scotia receives quota from the Southwest Nova Scotia fleet. All proceeds from the tournament are provided to the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia International Tuna Tournament (NSITT) receives an allocation of up to ten fish annually from the Canadian quota. There are also 2 hook and release tournaments that take place in North Lake and Tignish, Prince Edward Island (PEI). Any mortality associated with these 2 PEI tournaments is counted against the 10 ton allocation for mortalities associated with charter activities
  4. Swordfish/other tunas licence holders and the offshore licence holder – can retain 33.76t and 20t of Bluefin tuna bycatch respectively.


Table 2. Total number of Licences (2017)
Tuna fleets Licences Commercial communal licences*
Prince Edward Island  359 16
Gulf Nova Scotia 135 14
Gulf New Brunswick 102 32
Newfoundland 49 6
Quebec 53 1
Southwest Nova Scotia 42 4
St. Margaret’s Bay 24 0
Swordfish/other tunas (by-catch) 78 4
TOTAL 846 77
*These licences are included in the overall number of licences

Indigenous participation

Commercial Communal license holders are managed as part of the seven inshore commercial fleets and must follow the conservation harvesting plan of their respective fleets. Currently there is no Food, Social or Ceremonial (FSC) fishery in the Atlantic Bluefin tuna fishery.

Location of fishery

Figure 1 – Catch Distribution of Bluefin Tuna from 2012-2016

Figure 1 – Catch Distribution of Bluefin Tuna from 2012-2016


Figure 1 – presents a map showing the Canadian Atlantic region from Latitudes: 40 degrees to 50 degrees and Longitudes: -50 degrees to -70 degrees with the region’s Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) boundaries overlaid on it. Plotted on the map is the number of Bluefin Tuna caught per 0.2 by 0.2 degree square from 2012 to 2016. The table below in this description provides the values of each of the coloured squares, the Latitude and Longitude coordinates represent the bottom left corner of the square. Due to privacy regulations there is a larger box covering the waters surrounding Newfoundland (-59/46.4) coloured to represent 30 to 45 Bluefin Tuna Caught

Longitude Latitude # Tuna Caught Longitude Latitude # Tuna Caught Longitude Latitude # Tuna Caught Longitude Latitude # Tuna Caught
-64.6 40 1 -65.4 42.8 2 -52.2 43.8 1 -61.4 45.8 1
64.4 40 1 -65.2 42.8 10 -66.6 44 3 -61.2 45.8 4
-64.8 40.4 1 -64.8 42.8 2 -66.4 44 5 -61 45.8 1
64.6 40.4 2 -64.6 42.8 7 -64.6 44 86 -59.2 45.8 2
65.6 40.6 2 -64.2 42.8 9 -64.4 44 140 -56.2 45.8 1
-63.6 40.6 1 -64 42.8 2 -64.2 44 2 -64.4 46 2
-62.4 40.6 1 -63.8 42.8 2 -64 44 1 -64.2 46 1
-65.6 40.8 2 -63.6 42.8 1 -63.6 44 3 -64 46 6
-64.8 40.8 1 -63.4 42.8 2 -63.4 44 11 -63.8 46 1
-64.6 40.8 1 -63.2 42.8 2 -63.2 44 26 -63.2 46 1
-63 40.8 3 -63 42.8 5 -63 44 66 -63 46 3
-62.4 40.8 2 -62.8 42.8 18 -62.8 44 39 -62.8 46 2
-65.8 41 3 -62.6 42.8 13 -62.6 44 8 -62.6 46 11
-65.6 41 3 -62.4 42.8 12 -62.4 44 3 -62.4 46 355
-65.4 41 3 -62.2 42.8 20 -62.2 44 6 -62.2 46 113
-63.6 41 3 -62 42.8 22 -61.8 44 4 -62 46 140
-63.2 41 1 -61.8 42.8 10 -61.6 44 13 -61.8 46 126
-62.8 41 1 -61.6 42.8 5 -61.4 44 17 -61.6 46 451
-62.6 41 1 -61.4 42.8 2 -59.6 44 1 -61.4 46 1
62.4 41 2 -60.2 42.8 1 -58.8 44 16 -59.4 46 1
-61.2 41 2 -60.2 42.8 1 -58.6 44 88 -64 46.2 2
-66.2 41.2 2 -59.8 42.8 1 -58.4 44 63 -63 46.2 2
-66 41.2 8 -54.4 42.8 1 -58.2 44 10 -62.8 46.2 2
-65.8 41.2 6 -66.4 43 3 -58 44 2 -62.6 46.2 4
-65.6 41.2 5 -65.8 43 3 -53 44 1 -62.4 46.2 39
-65.4 41.2 3 -65.6 43 6 -52.8 44 1 -62.2 46.2 12
-65 41.2 1 -64.6 43 1 -67.8 44.2 1 -62 46.2 12
-64.8 41.2 1 -64.4 43 2 -66.6 44.2 2 -61.8 46.2 21
-64.4 41.2 1 -64 43 1 -66.4 44.2 1 -61.6 46.2 68
-62.4 41.2 1 -62.6 43 1 -66.2 44.2 1 -61.4 46.2 52
-62 41.2 1 -62.4 43 3 -64.6 44.2 1 -61.2 46.2 2
-61.8 41.2 3 -62.2 43 5 -64.4 44.2 25 -61 46.2 2
-66 41.4 12 -62 43 5 -63.8 44.2 4 -60.2 46.2 2
-65.8 41.4 3 -61.8 43 9 -63.6 44.2 18 -64.8 46.4 1
-65.6 41.4 1 -61.6 43 7 -63.4 44.2 2 -64.4 46.4 1
-65.4 41.4 2 -61.4 43 3 -63 44.2 15 -64.2 46.4 1
-65.2 41.4 1 -61.2 43 2 -62.8 44.2 61 -64 46.4 5
-64.8 41.4 1 -52.2 43 2 -62.6 44.2 83 -63.6 46.4 2
-63.4 41.4 1 -67 43.2 8 -62.4 44.2 67 -63.4 46.4 5
-63.2 41.4 1 -66.8 43.2 1 -62.2 44.2 42 -63.2 46.4 4
-63 41.4 1 -66.6 43.2 7 -62 44.2 32 -63 46.4 63
-62.8 41.4 1 -66.4 43.2 22 -61.8 44.2 25 -62.8 46.4 79
-66 41.6 4 -64.8 43.2 1 -61.6 44.2 73 -62.6 46.4 61
65.8 41.6 17 -64.4 43.2 1 -61.4 44.2 41 -62.4 46.4 105
-65.8 41.6 3 -63.8 43.2 2 -61.2 44.2 2 -62.2 46.4 467
-65.2 41.6 1 -63.6 43.2 1 -61 44.2 1 -62 46.4 168
-65 41.6 1 -63.2 43.2 1 -60.8 44.2 1 -61.8 46.4 6
-64.6 41.6 2 -61.8 43.2 1 -60.2 44.2 2 -61.6 46.4 1
-64.4 41.6 1 -61.6 43.2 1 -58.8 44.2 1 -61.4 46.4 20
-62.4 41.6 2 -61.4 43.2 10 -58.6 44.2 5 -61.2 46.4 6
-66 41.8 8 -61.2 43.2 14 -58.4 44.2 15 -60.6 46.4 1
-65.8 41.8 20 -61 43.2 23 -58.2 44.2 14 -60.2 46.4 1
65.6 41.8 26 -60.8 43.2 15 -58 44.2 2 -65.2 46.6 1
65.4 41.8 1 -60.6 43.2 2 -57.8 44.2 4 -65 46.6 1
-65.2 41.8 18 -60.4 43.2 2 -57.6 44.2 2 -64.2 46.6 2
-65 41.8 1 -60.2 43.2 1 -57.4 44.2 3 -64 46.6 6
-63.6 41.8 1 -58.4 43.2 2 -53.6 44.2 1 -63.8 46.6 1
-63.4 41.8 1 -58 43.2 1 -53.4 44.2 3 -63.4 46.6 2
-63.2 41.8 1 -56.6 43.2 1 -53.2 44.2 1 -63.2 46.6 1
-63 41.8 2 -54.4 43.2 3 -53 44.2 2 -63 46.6 3
-62.8 41.8 3 -53 43.2 1 -66.8 44.4 11 -62.8 46.6 3
-62.6 41.8 3 -52.4 43.2 1 -66.6 44.4 17 -62.6 46.6 5
62.2 41.8 1 -52.2 43.2 2 -66.4 44.4 11 -62.4 46.6 10
-62 41.8 4 -52 43.2 2 -64.6 44.4 2 -62.2 46.6 12
-67 42 15 -51.6 43.2 1 -64.4 44.4 1 -62 46.6 7
-66.8 42 65 -66.6 43.4 3 -64.2 44.4 306 -61.8 46.6 2
-66.6 42 60 -66.4 43.4 131 -64 44.4 4 -61.6 46.6 1
-66.4 42 46 -66.2 43.4 2 -63.8 44.4 1 -61.4 46.6 3
-66.2 42 2 -65.4 43.4 1 -63.6 44.4 163 -61.2 46.6 2
-66 42 3 -65.2 -43.4 2 -63.4 44.4 48 -65 46.8 2
-65.8 42 119 -64.8 43.4 2 -63.2 44.4 65 -64.8 46.8 2
-65.6 42 599 -63.8 43.4 4 -62.8 44.4 1 -64.6 46.8 2
-65.4 42 43 -63.6 43.4 3 -62.6 44.4 1 -64.4 46.8 2
-65.2 42 23 -63.4 43.4 7 -62.4 44.4 2 -64.2 46.8 2
-65 42 10 -63.2 43.4 4 -62.2 44.4 3 -64 46.8 21
-64.8 42 4 -63 43.4 5 -61.6 44.4 14 -63.8 46.8 4
-64.6 42 1 -62.2 43.4 1 -61.4 44.4 2 -63.6 46.8 2
-64.2 42 3 -61.6 43.4 1 -57.4 44.4 1 -63 46.8 1
-64 42 2 -61.4 43.4 1 -57.2 44.4 7 -62.4 46.8 2
-63.8 42 1 -61 43.4 4 -57 44.4 2 -62.2 46.8 6
-63.6 42 4 -60.8 43.4 1 -53.8 44.4 1 -61.8 46.8 3
63.2 42 2 -60.6 43.4 11 -53.6 44.4 2 -61.4 46.8 1
-62.8 42 1 -60.4 43.4 14 -66.8 44.6 19 -61.2 46.8 1
-62.6 42 2 -60.2 43.4 7 -66.6 44.6 3 -60.8 46.8 4
-62.4 42 2 -60 43.4 24 -63.8 44.6 1 -60.6 46.8 1
-66.4 42.2 3 -59.8 43.4 9 -63.4 44.6 5 -60.2 46.8 1
-66 42.2 4 -59.6 43.4 2 -63.2 44.6 23 -64.6 47 4
-65.8 42.2 1 -59.4 43.4 3 -63 44.6 4 -64.4 47 1
-65.6 42.2 4 -58.6 43.4 2 -61.8 44.6 2 -64.2 47 73
-65.4 42.2 19 -58.4 43.4 1 -56.6 44.6 1 -64 47 726
-65.2 42.2 19 -53 43.4 2 -54.6 44.6 2 -63.8 47 5
-65 42.2 12 -52.8 43.4 3 -54.4 44.6 2 -63.6 47 7
-64.8 42.2 2 -52.4 43.4 3 -54.2 44.6 3 -63.2 47 4
-64.2 42.2 2 -52.2 43.4 6 -62 44.8 73 -63 47 1
-63 42.2 2 -52 43.4 7 -61.8 44.8 34 -62.6 47 1
-62.4 42.2 2 -66.4 43.6 2 -54.6 44.8 4 -62.4 47 1
-62.2 42.2 1 -65.2 43.6 2 -62 45 3 -62.2 47 1
-62 42.2 1 -65 43.6 4 -61.8 45 4 -61.8 47 2
-61.6 42.2 2 -64.8 43.6 26 -61.6 45 5 -61.6 47 4
-61.4 42,2 2 -64.6 43.6 1 -61.4 45 3 -60.6 47 1
-61 42.2 1 -64 43.6 1 -61.2 45 9 -64.6 47.2 1
-60.4 42.2 2 -63.8 43.6 5 -61 45 6 -64.4 47.2 1
-67 42.4 1 -63.6 43.6 4 -60.2 45 1 -64.2 47.2 93
-66.4 42.4 2 -63.4 43.6 9 -56 45 1 -64 47.2 90
-66 42.4 14 -63.2 43.6 23 -55.4 45 14 -63.8 47.2 1
-65.6 42.4 1 -63 43.6 1 -55.2 45 22 -62.4 47.2 1
-65.2 42.4 2 -62.8 43.6 1 -55 45 1 -62 47.2 1
-65 42.4 6 -62 43.6 1 -54.6 45 4 -61.6 47.2 3
-64.8 42.4 6 -60.2 43.6 1 -61.8 45.2 1 -64.2 47.4 3
-64.6 42.4 12 -60 43.6 13 -61.6 45.2 5 -64 47.4 2
-64.4 42.4 2 -59.8 43.6 44 -61.2 45.2 15 -62.2 47.4 2
-63.6 42.4 1 -59.6 43.6 39 -61 45.2 427 -61.6 47.4 1
-63.2 42.4 2 -59.4 43.6 49 -60.8 45.2 36 -59 47.4 1
-63 42.4 1 -59.2 43.6 20 -60.6 45.2 1 -64 47.6 1
-62.4 42.4 2 -58.8 43.6 6 -60.4 45.2 3 -63.8 47.6 1
-62.2 42.4 1 -54.6 43.6 2 -55.2 45.2 3 -62.8 47.6 1
-62 42.4 1 -54.4 43.6 4 -55 45.2 2 -62.2 47.6 2
-61.8 42.4 3 -52.6 43.6 4 -61.4 45.4 1 -62 47.6 2
-61.6 42.4 2 -52.4 43.6 14 -61 45.4 63 -61.6 47.6 1
-61.2 42.4 1 -52.2 43.6 12 -60.8 45.4 7 -64.6 47.8 1
-60.8 42.4 1 -66.8 43.8 1 -56 45.4 6 -64.4 47.8 1
-60.4 42.4 1 -66.6 43.8 2 -55.8 45.4 210 -64.2 47.8 2
-60.2 42.4 2 -65 43.8 3 -55.6 45.4 9 -62.6 47.8 1
-67 42.6 1 -64.8 43.8 379 -54.6 45.4 2 -62.4 47.8 1
-66.6 42.6 2 -64.6 43.8 124 -62.8 45.6 1 -62.2 47.8 5
-66.2 42.6 3 -64.4 43.8 2 -62.4 45.6 3 -62 47.8 6
-64.4 42.6 4 -64.2 43.8 1 -62.2 45.6 4 -65.8 48 1
-64.2 42.6 6 -64 43.8 3 -62 45.6 1 -65 48 3
-64 42.6 3 -63.8 43.8 7 -61.8 45.6 2 -64.8 48 1
-63.8 42.6 1 -63.6 43.8 20 -61.6 45.6 4 -64.4 48 37
-63.6 42.6 3 -63.4 43.8 1 -61.2 45.6 1 -64.2 48 20
-63.2 42.6 2 -63.2 43.8 17 -56 45.6 10 -64 48 8
-63 42.6 5 -63 43.8 8 -55.8 45.6 50 -65.2 48.2 1
-62.8 42.6 5 -62.8 43.8 8 -55.6 45.6 1 -64.6 48.2 1
-62.6 42.6 1 -62.4 43.8 1 -54.6 45.6 1 -64.4 48.2 1
-62.4 42.6 1 -59.6 43.8 1 -64 45.8 1 -64 48.2 4
-62 42.6 3 -59.2 43.8 9 -63.6 45.8 2 -63.2 48.2 1
-61.4 42.6 3 -59 43.8 5 -63.2 45.8 1 -64 48.4 6
-61.2 42.6 2 -58.8 43.8 62 -63 45.8 1 -63 48.4 1
-60.6 42.6 1 -58.6 43.8 23 -62.8 45.8 4 -63 48.6 1
-60 42.6 1 -58.4 43.8 7 -62.6 45.8 10 -64 49.4 1
-59.8 42.6 2 -56.8 43.8 1 -62.4 45.8 57      
-59.6 42.6 2 -55.4 43.8 4 -62.2 45.8 20      
-54.4 42.6 3 -52.8 43.8 4 -62 45.8 49      
-67 42.8 2 -52.6 43.8 17 -61.8 45.8 121      
-66.6 42.8 1 -52.4 43.8 1 -61.6 45.8 23      

Atlantic Bluefin tuna are at the northern edge of their range in Canada and often show unpredictable changes in distribution. This unpredictability, combined with their schooling behavior, the patchiness of their prey, and age-specific preference for waters of particular temperatures associated with annual variability in hydrographic/oceanographic conditions, accounts for considerable year-to-year variation in fishing location.

In Canada, the major Bluefin tuna fisheries are: off southwest Nova Scotia (the Hell Hole between Browns and Georges Banks); St. Margaret’s Bay (south shore of NS); Canso, NS; Gulf of St. Lawrence (off Cape George in the eastern part of Northumberland Strait; off North Cape and East Point in PEI, in St. Georges Bay; north of the Canso Causeway); and, off the southern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Since 1996, Bluefin tuna have also been taken in a broader area off the coast of Nova Scotia between the Hell Hole and Canso fisheries, and particularly off Halifax. Bluefin are also taken along the edge of the Scotian Shelf as a by-catch of the pelagic longline fleet while directing for swordfish and tuna species other than Bluefin.

Fishery characteristics


Angling gear - a rod and reel to which is attached a single line with only one hook: it is the most common gear used.

Tended Line - a line equipped with only one hook, attached at all times to a fishing vessel, but does not include angling gear.

Trap net/weirs - large holding pens that are set up along the Bluefin tuna migratory paths. These pens are designed so that the tuna can easily swim into the opening of the net but not easily escape. These are only used in the St. Margaret’s Bay area of Nova Scotia.

Pelagic longline – catches Bluefin tuna as bycatch in the swordfish and other tunas fishery. It consists of a 3.5mm mainline suspended by floats, with a series of hooks baited attached at regular intervals, used to fish in the upper water column. Typically these can be from 30-50 miles in length and have between 600-1100 baited hooks per set.

Electric harpoon - a barbed spear like instrument that is attached to a long rope that is powered with electricity. They are permitted in the inshore fishery upon request.


The Bluefin tuna commercial fishing season is open from January 1 through December 31 each year. However, the main directed fishery usually commences in late July and concludes in mid- to late November.

A hook and release (charter) fishery is also permitted during the commercial season for existing Bluefin tuna licence holders. This fishery takes place between July - October in Gulf of St. Lawrence and between July 15 - December 31 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Method of management

Commercial Fishery

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans uses licence conditions as the mechanism for controlling harvesting activities. Licences and their associated conditions are a binding agreement between the licence holder and the department.

While there is some variability in management measures between the seven commercial directed fleets, the majority of management measures are consistent for all fleets and are prescribed through licence conditions. The main management measures that all harvesters are subject to include:

  1. Mandatory retention of all Bluefin caught. All fish must be tagged immediately upon capture with an official DFO issued tag. Each tag contains a unique number to ensure each tuna can be tracked. Some fleets are permitted to use temporary tags (that can replace the official tags when conditions are unsafe) while the fish remains in the water.
  2. Harvesters are subject to 100% dockside monitoring of all landings.
  3. Mandatory hail out and hail in.
  4. A Bluefin tuna catch document with the accurate year coding (BFTCD-CAxx XXXX) must be completed by the Captain upon arrival at port for each trip in which a Bluefin tuna is landed. The catch document is to be confirmed by the dockside monitor upon weigh-out of each tuna landed.
  5. All landed tuna must be entered into the eBCD (electronic Bluefin tuna Catch Document) system.
  6. Logbooks must be completed by harvesters before entry into port.


Southwest Nova Scotia (SWNS) - consists of 32 licences, of which 6 licences are held by Indigenous Organizations. The traditional fishing waters are off southern Nova Scotia in areas 4VsWX and 5 (see Figure 2). Maritimes Region Ex-sector access is in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, areas 4RST. A percentage (6.1%) of the SWNS Fleet’s overall Bluefin tuna quota is allocated to an additional ten licences held by the “Tobin 10” licence holders (a group of Maritimes Region licence holders operating in south east Cape Breton (4Wd) in a competitive fishery manner). The main Southwest Nova Scotia fleet operates through an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system. The fishery is managed and operated under an equal share per individual licence holder quota system. Any overage or underage of quota is managed at the licence holder level.

The SWNS fleet has been exempted from the owner operator, fleet separation, and PIIFCAF Policies as of July 14th, 2009. The number of tags distributed to a SWNS licence holder is based on the initial fleets allocation but typically does not exceed a total of 15 (fifteen) tags. Other than exceptional circumstances, as may be authorized by DFO, tag transfers are not permitted. Two licence holders in the main SWNS fleet also have a special authorization permitting them to fish in 4Vn (a closed area for all other licence holders).

St. Margaret’s Bay (SMB) - consists of 24 Bluefin tuna trapnet licences. The SMB fleet is only authorized to harvest Bluefin tuna in the waters within St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia in established trap locations. Each licence is equally allocated one twenty-fourth, or 4.166%, of the yearly fleet quota. The SMB Fleet operates through an individual transferable quota (ITQ) system. SMB licence holders are permitted to hold a maximum of 6 licences or 25% of the total fleet allocation (6 licences x 4.166% share per licence = 25%). Any overage or underage of quota in a fishing year is managed at the licence holder level. The number of tags distributed to a SMB licence holder is based on the initial allocation. Tag transfers are not permitted between licence holders.

Gulf New Brunswick (GNB) - consists of 102 licences, including 32 licences held by nine Indigenous organizations. The fleet's traditional fishing areas are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence areas 4RST and southern Cape Breton 4Wd (see Figure 2). GNB Ex-sector access is off southern Nova Scotia in areas 4VsW, 4X, and 5. Each licence is allocated an individual share (%) of the GNB fleet quota. Harvesters who do not have a sufficient individual allocation (in weight) to receive one full Bluefin tag are allowed to combine their allocations. The rest of licence holders receive tags based on each individual allocation and the projected average weight of a fish. If there is uncaught quota at the end of October, additional tags are issued randomly by draw to eligible licence holders. Tag transfer between commercial fishers is not permitted. However, licence holders can transfer their remaining allocation after they have fished their initial tag(s) or combine their individual allocation on one vessel, (no limit on the number of licence holders on a vessel although every licence holder has to be on board). Individual quota reconciliation is in place for any quota overrun made by the fleet.

Only incoming transfers are permitted to the GNB fleet (ie. GNB can accept quota transfers from other fleets but are permitted to transfer quota to other fleets). A rationalization plan is in place to permanently decrease the number of licences as there is not enough quota available for all licence holders to receive enough weight for a tag. The plan provides opportunity to licence holders (commercial fishers and Indigenous organizations) to increase their individual allocation up to a maximum (4% per licence) or to leave the fishery by permanently transferring their individual allocation to an existing licence holder.

Prince Edward Island (PEI) - consists of 359 licences. Its traditional fishing areas are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in areas 4RST and in southern Cape Breton in area 4WD (see Figure 2). PEI Ex-sector access is in southern Nova Scotia in areas 4VsW, 4X and 5. Each licence is allocated one Bluefin tag for an initial fishing period. The number of tags available for allocation in a given year is based on the PEI fleet quota and the projected average weight of a fish. If available, additional tags are allocated later in the year using an established list of licence holders. A maximum of 2 fishers can combine tags on one vessel. Non-Indigenous licence holders are not permitted tag transfers or to harvest more than one fish in a given fishing trip. Indigenous licence holders have special management provisions to enhance the economic feasibility of the fishery, that allow landing more than one fish per fishing trip, transfering tags from one licence holder to another and fishing more than one licence on a vessel at one time.

Gulf Nova Scotia (GNS) - consists of 135 licences, including 14 licences held by eight Indigenous organizations and 10 licences held by the “Daliwhal 10” (a group of Maritime Region fish harvesters located in Canso). The traditional fishing areas are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in areas 4RST (see Figure 2) and in the Canso region in subarea 4Wd (see Figure 3). GNS Ex-sector access is in 4VsW, 4X, and 5. The number of tags available for allocation in a given year is based on the GNS fleet quota and the projected average weight of a fish. Tags are allocated using a revolving list of licence holders.

Quebec (QC) – consists of 53 licences, including 1 licence held by an Indigenous organization. The fleet's traditional fishing area is in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 4RST (see Figure 2). Ex-sector access is in southern Cape Breton in 4Wd and in southern Nova Scotia in areas 4VsW, 4X, and 5. The total number of tags issued is determined based on the allocation available at the beginning of the fishing season and the average weight of Bluefin tuna landed in the previous two years. A maximum of 3 fishers can combine tags on one vessel. No additional tags are issued during the fishing season.

Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) – consists of 89 licences, including 60 rotational licences (26 available in a given year from the rotating list); 17 Atlantic-wide commercial licences (13 commercial licences and four charter licences); 12 permanent-half-licences; and 6 licences held by one Indigenous organization. The traditional fishing area is waters off eastern and southern Newfoundland in areas 3LNOP (see Figure 2). Ex-sector access is in waters off southern Nova Scotia in areas 4VSWX and 5 and in the Gulf in areas 4RST. The NL fleet quota is equally divided between the home waters and the Ex-sector fishery. Atlantic-wide commercial licence holders can fish Ex-sector or home waters, but not both in a given season. The number of tags available for allocation in a given year is based on the NL fleet quota and the projected average weight of a fish. Tags are allocated using an established list of licence holders. Tag transfers are not permitted in season. The rotational and permanent-half licences are eligible for access to home waters in areas 3LNOPs.

Further information on the methods of management for each fleet is provided in the Conservation Harvesting Plans (CHPs) developed for each fleet. This information is held by DFO regional offices (See contact information in Appendix 4).

Hook and release charter fishery

While chartered boat excursions have long been part of the Canadian fishery, the Bluefin tuna catch and release fishery began in 2009 with a limited number of participants and has steadily grown since. Only registered commercial Bluefin tuna licence holders are permitted to operate charters, and operators are restricted to the same fishing areas as their commercial fishing area. Charter boat operators are authorized to take groups of passengers on board to participate in the hook and release fishery provided they have taken the required training. This fishery has established licence conditions and “fish-handling” guidelines that must be adhered to. Participants in this fishery are also collaborating with science to tag all fish caught and released as part of an ICCAT tagging program. This program is providing important information with regards to the migratory patterns of Western Bluefin tuna.

Figure 2. Fishing Areas

Figure 2. Fishing Areas

Figure 3. 4Wd Fishing Area

Figure 3. 4Wd Fishing Area


The fishery is governed internationally by a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) as well as through a suite of legislation, policy, and regulations including, but not limited to, those noted below.

International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT)

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas is an inter-governmental Regional Fisheries Management organization that is responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas. ICCAT establishes management and reporting obligations for contracting parties who are members of the commission.

Fisheries Act

The Fisheries Act of Canada regulates all activities within Canada’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone that could impact fish and/or fish habitat.

Section 10 of the Fisheries Act, provides the Minister with the authority to allocate an amount of fish or use of fishing gear / equipment to finance a scientific or fisheries management activity using a collaborative agreement. The “use of fish” provides DFO with another means to partner with stakeholders and Indigenous groups to achieve a shared objective.

Atlantic Fisheries Regulations (AFR)

General licensing and registration regulatory requirements are found in the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985 (AFR), Part II. Part V applies to pelagic species and Part X provides the regulations that apply to the tuna fishery.

Fisheries (General) Regulations (FGR)

The Fishery General Regulations (FGR) provides guidance in managing fishing and related activities across Canada. Specific matters that are covered by the FGRs include: licence conditions; the authority to issue Variation Orders to set minimum legal sizes and amend season dates; and, control of incidental catches in the fishery.

Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations (ACFLR), 1993

These are a set of regulations that apply solely to Indigenous harvesters.

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) International Plan of Action (IPOA) for Shark Conservation

The FAO adopted, in 1999, a voluntary IPOA for shark conservation to address global overfishing. In 2007, Canada released its national plan for the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use and provided an update in 2012. Globally, the impact of Canada’s bycatch of sharks and impacts on shark populations is low. Nevertheless, measures have been and continue to be implemented to improve the management of these species, including the requirement to land all shark bycatch with fins attached.

Species At Risk Act, 2002

The purpose of Species At Risk Actis to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity, and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.

Oceans Act

Under the Oceans Act, the department can establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in order to protect and conserve biodiversity.

With the introduction of the Gully Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2004, specific action includes a prohibition of fishing activity inside Zone 1 of the MPA to protect bottlenose whales. Therefore, there is no large pelagic fishing of any type in Zone 1 of the Gully.

Sustainable Fisheries Framework: Conservation and Sustainable Use of Elements

Included in this framework are a number of policies: including the Precautionary Approach Policy; the Foraging Species Policy; and the Sensitive Benthic Areas Policy; and, By-catch Policy. The precautionary principle involves taking into account climate change and the use of scientific evidence when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management. Canada will also promote the Precautionary Approach through the ICCAT Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) process which will be initiated for Bluefin tuna in 2018.

Approval process

There are a number of steps taken to establish and approve management measures of Bluefin tuna:

  1. ICCAT establishes the overall harvest level as well as Canadian quota for Atlantic Bluefin tuna. Canada is required to meet management reporting requirements and other obligations as a member of the Commission.
  2. Regional discussions are held between the department, provinces and other interested parties through meetings such as the Scotia Fundy Large Pelagic Advisory Committee (SFLPAC) and the Gulf Region Large Pelagic Advisory Committee meeting. Recommendations from regional meetings feed into discussions at the Atlantic Large Pelagic Advisory Committee (ALPAC).
  3. ALPAC is the forum where industry stakeholders, Indigenous groups, DFO managers and scientists, representatives from the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec, environmental non-government organizations (eNGOs) and other interested parties meet and discuss the management of the Canadian Bluefin tuna fishery. Based on ICCAT decisions and regional discussions, this group provides views on the international obligations and domestic objectives for the fishery. Indigenous partners have a regularly established separate forum to meet with the Chairman of ALPAC, as well as with DFO representatives, in order to provide their knowledge, views and, expertise on the issues that are discussed with the larger ALPAC group.
  4. Based on the feedback from ALPAC, Resource Management (DFO-Ottawa and Regions) develops measures to sustainably manage the Bluefin tuna fishery and meet obligations and requirements established by ICCAT.
  5. DFO National Headquarters (NHQ) – Final approval for all domestic management measures is obtained from the Director General, Fisheries Resource Management. A request to change the existing access and allocation arrangements require approvals from: the Associate Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Harbour Management; the Deputy Minister; and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

2. Stock assessment, science and traditional knowledge

Biological synopsis

Original Source - Biological Synopsis (Source REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON RESEARCH AND STATISTICS (SCRS), Madrid, Spain – 2 to 6 October 2017):

Atlantic Bluefin tuna (BFT) have a wide geographical distribution but mainly live in the temperate pelagic ecosystem of the entire North Atlantic and its adjacent waters, for example the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Mediterranean Sea. Recent information on their presence in the South Atlantic is incomplete. Archival tagging information confirmed that BFT can sustain cold as well as warm temperatures while maintaining a stable internal body temperature. Bluefin tuna preferentially occupy the surface and subsurface waters of the coastal and open-sea areas, but archival tagging and ultrasonic telemetry data indicate that they frequently dive to depths of more than 1,000 m. Bluefin tuna are a highly migratory species that seem to display a homing behavior and spawning site fidelity to primary spawning areas in both the Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Recent evidence indicates that spawning also occurs in the vicinity of the Slope Sea, though its persistence and its importance remains to be determined. Electronic tagging is also resolving the movements to the foraging areas within the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic and indicates that Bluefin tuna movement patterns vary by tagging site, by month of tagging, and according to the age of the fish. The reappearance of Bluefin tuna in historical fishing areas and north temperate waters suggest that important changes in the spatial dynamics of Bluefin tuna may also have resulted from interactions between biological factors, environmental variations and the reduction in fishing effort. The Atlantic Bluefin tuna population is managed as two stocks, conventionally separated by the 45°W meridian; however efforts to understand the population structure through genetic and microchemistry studies and tagging indicate that mixing is occurring at various rates in the eastern, western and northwestern Atlantic.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas’ (ICCAT) Grand Bluefin Tuna Year Programme (GBYP) biological sample database provided the basis for improved biological studies. Substantial progress has been made in estimating regional, time varying mixing levels for Atlantic Bluefin tuna throughout the Atlantic, using otolith stable isotope and genetic analyses. Research on larval ecology of Atlantic Bluefin tuna has advanced in recent years through oceanographic habitat suitability models. Direct age estimations, using otoliths and dorsal fin spines, have been calibrated across several institutions resulting in stock specific age length keys and a new growth model for the western population.

Recent information received by the ICCAT’s Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) indicates that some young individuals (age 5) of unknown origin caught in the West Atlantic were mature, but there was considerable uncertainty with regards to their contribution to the western stock spawning. Therefore, for the western stock the SCRS considered two spawning schedules; one identical to that used for the East (100% mature at age 5), and one with peak spawning at age 15. Juvenile and adult Bluefin tuna are opportunistic feeders (as are most predators). However, in general, juveniles feed on crustaceans, fish and cephalopods, while adults primarily feed on fish such as herring, anchovy, sand lance, sardine, sprat, bluefish and mackerel. Juvenile growth is rapid for a teleost fish, but slower than other tuna and billfish species. Fish born in June attain a length of about 30-40 cm long and a weight of about 1 kg by October. After one year, fish reach about 4 kg and 60 cm long. At 10 years old, a Bluefin Tuna is about 200 cm and 170 kg and reaches about 270 cm and 400 kg at 20 years. Bluefin Tuna is a long-lived species, with a lifespan of about 40 years, as indicated by radiocarbon deposition and can reach 330 cm (SFL) and weight up to 725 kg.

Important electronic and conventional tagging activity on both juveniles and adult fish has been performed in recent years in the Atlantic and Mediterranean by ICCAT’s GBYP, national programmes and NGOs. The contributions of popup satellite and archival tags (PSAT) data from all groups are supporting ongoing efforts to provide significant insight into Bluefin tuna stock structure and mixing and migrations which may help in estimating fishing mortality rates.

The SCRS believes that the eastern and western stocks share many biological characteristics and the natural mortality rates have to be similar in magnitude and decline with age. Recently, the SCRS revised the natural mortality assumptions and adopted a single new age specific natural mortality curve for both stocks.

Ecosystem interactions

As a top predator, Bluefin tuna distribution is dictated by the availability and distribution of prey species. The main prey species in Canadian waters are herring and mackerel.

Recently, Bluefin tuna have been observed in more northerly latitudes in association with shifts in the occurrence of prey. Notable examples are recent catches off eastern Greenland, Norway, and Iceland. Locally they have been observed feeding off northern and eastern coastal Newfoundland. These shifts in population distribution are presumed to be indirectly linked to changes in physical oceanography (Sea Surface Temperature).

To date, there has been no evidence that stock status, recruitment, or productivity is affected by recent changes in the environment. Ongoing work indicates that both Atlantic Swordfish recruitment success and distribution is driven by the Atlantic Multi Decadal Oscillation. This work has now been extended to Bluefin tuna.

Stock assessment

Bluefin tuna are assessed approximately every 2 to 3 years. The last assessment was conducted in July of 2017. This recent assessment was open to revisions of the assessment methodology and parameterization. The next assessment is proposed for 2020 and again will be open to revisions of the basic information on the biological inputs and catch size composition. Both the eastern Atlantic and western Atlantic management units were assessed in 2017.

The SCRS cautions that the conclusions from the latest assessment (2017), using data through 2015, does not capture the full degree of uncertainty in the assessments and projections. The various major contributing factors to these uncertainties include mixing between the stocks, recruitment, age composition, age-at-maturity, and indices of abundance.

In the 2017 western Bluefin tuna stock assessment, two stock assessment models (virtual population analysis (VPA) and Stock Synthesis (SS)) were considered sufficiently developed to provide advice on stock status. Results were equally weighted to formulate advice. Major revisions to the input data were also incorporated into the 2017 stock assessment. The revisions, used in both assessment models, included revised natural mortality and growth, two spawning-at-age scenarios, and a revised total and fleet specific catch-at-age (based on new Task I and Task II data and growth). Additionally, the two traditional Canadian CPUE indices for the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Southwest Nova Scotia were replaced with a combined index for the two areas, the new Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence acoustic survey was included in the assessment inputs, and the Japanese longline index was split into two time series. Both models demonstrated a generally consistent trend in relative abundance during overlapping time periods; however the absolute biomass varied depending upon the model.

Previous stock assessments determined stock status based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY) related reference points using two alternative recruitment potential scenarios: a ‘low recruitment’ scenario and a ‘high recruitment’ scenario. The 2017 assessments do not provide management advice based on MSY reference points. Instead, the focus is on giving short-term advice based on fishing mortality rate (F) reference point (F0.1), a proxy for FMSY, using recent recruitment assuming that near term recruitment will be similar to the recent past recruitment. The reference point of choice for the eastern stock has been F0.1 since 2008. For the VPA model, the starting year for the input was advanced from 1970 in the 2014 assessment to 1974 in the 2017 assessment. Due to limited size composition data before 1974, the Canadian combined RR and the US RR>177 indices were removed from the model because they indicated opposing trends and were believed to be most sensitive to the hypothesis of shifting spatial distribution of fish. For the base Stock Synthesis (SS) model, the time series extended back to 1950, and incorporated the length and age composition information and estimation of growth parameters. Both models estimated with a high probability that overfishing is not occurring. However, the SS biomass estimates suggest that historical biomasses were considerably higher than current ones.

Stock scenarios

A 20-year rebuilding plan was implemented in 1998. The 2017 assessment estimated that the biomass has increased from 2004 to 2015. As biomass-based reference points are not used in formulating the 2017 advice, the SCRS did not evaluate if the rebuilding objectives were met. The 2017 assessment indicated that the western total stock biomass estimated by VPA decreased sharply between 1974 and 1981, followed by more than two decades of stability (at about 50% of the 1974 biomass) across the turn of the century, and then has gradually increased since 2004 to 69% of the 1974 biomass in 2015. Recruitment was high in the early 1970s, but subsequently fluctuated around a lower average until 2003 when there was a strong year class.

Recruitment has shown a downward trend since. The western total stock biomass estimated by SS in 2015 was 18% of the biomass in 1950 and 45% of the biomass in 1974. The F0.1 strategy compensates for the effect of recruitment changes on biomass by allowing higher catches when recent recruitment is higher and reducing catches when recent recruitments are lower. Under this strategy, biomass (B) may decrease at times because the stock is above B0.1 or following lower recruitments. The SCRS advised that constant catches over 2018-2020 should not be greater than 2500 t as that would exceed the median yield associated with F0.1. The SCRS also noted that nearly all constant catch options (i.e., those greater than 1,000 t) would result in an estimated decrease in biomass between 2018 and 2020 with the percentage decrease being larger for larger catches.

Precautionary approach

It is not possible to calculate biomass-based reference points (e.g., MSY and FMSY) apart from the knowledge (or assumptions) about how future recruitment potential relates to spawning stock biomass. In the absence of such knowledge, several F reference points have been recommended in the literature as proxies for FMSY. The reference point of choice for the Eastern stock has been F0.1 since 2008. In 2017 the SCRS considered F0.1 to be a reasonable proxy for the western stock as well. Yields associated with F0.1 can be higher or lower than MSY-based yields, depending on the spawner-recruit relationship. Over the long term, fishing consistently at F0.1 will cause the stock to fluctuate around B0.1, regardless of whatever the future recruitment potential is.

Research: Canada’s scientific research on the Western stock

  1. Otolith microchemistry continues and provides a means to differentiate between fish hatched in the Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The data address the mixing of stocks on the fishing grounds.
  2. Genetic analysis of tissue samples also continues and identifies the natal origin of individuals and addresses the mixing question. The identification of parent offspring pairs in the population is expected to yield absolute estimates of spawning stock abundance.
  3. Image analysis of otoliths has been used to identify shape differences in otoliths for the purposes of identifying the natal origin of fish and can be used to address the mixing question in the absence of other methodologies.
  4. Diet and lipid analysis of tissues is used to assess the condition of the fish and relates to the fecundity and spawning potential.
  5. Electronic tagging data are being used to understand the migratory behaviour of the populations and address the mixing issue. They are also used to define habitat use. Conventional tagging is providing similar information but with less detail. These tagging studies are also being used in the estimation of the species’ natural mortality in the assessment.
  6. Otolith age determination is being used to develop keys that can characterize the age of the catch. It is also used to improve the growth model which dictates the size at age.
  7. Catch data coupled with remote sensing information are being used to delineate the extent of foraging and spawning grounds and will be related to the current distribution and catch rates of Bluefin tuna.
  8. Acoustic surveys for herring, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, have been established to provide a fishery independent time series of relative abundance and will be continued.
  9. Development of a joint Canadian – American relative index of abundance for the Western Bluefin Tuna stock from both the Rod and Reel and Longline fishing sectors will be attempted to provide stronger fishery dependent time series of relative abundance indices.
  10. Conversion factors back to Round Weight for the different commonly observed Dressed Weight formats will be reviewed, to ensure accurate reporting of weight.
  11. Otolith microchemistry examination on archived otolith, dating back to 1975, will be undertaken to extend mixing estimates (differentiation between fish hatched in the Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Mexico) into the historical period.
  12. Genetic analysis of tissue samples used to identify the natal origin of individuals on samples collected from tagged individuals will be combined with Electronic and Conventional tagging data to understand the migratory behaviours of the two populations.

3. Social, cultural and economic

Commercial fishery

Figure 1: Canadian Bluefin Tuna Landed Value and Quantity (1996-2015)Footnote 1

Figure 1: Canadian Bluefin Tuna Landed Value and Quantity (1996-2015)

Figure 1 - Bluefin tuna landings 1996-2015

Year Landed Value (Millions CAD) Landed Quantity (Tonnes)
1996 12.7 600
1997 11.5 507
1998 10.2 597
1999 9.8 576
2000 12.8 547
2001 10.8 515
2002 12.9 602
2003 12.4 556
2004 9.2 540
2005 9.4 603
2006 10.5 731
2007 6.9 495
2008 11.1 578
2009 7.3 533
2010 7.4 507
2011 9.1 475
2012 8.7 477
2013 7.5 480
2014 6.0 463
2015 6.9 530

Canadian commercial landings of Bluefin tuna have averaged 546 tonnes per year since 1996 (Figure 1). More recently, Bluefin tuna landings have averaged 485 tonnes per year from 2011 to 2015. Landed values have experienced a downward trend since a high of $15.2M landed in 1995.Footnote 2 From 2011 to 2015, Bluefin tuna landed value averaged $7.7M per year, with landed prices averaging $15.84/kg over this period. The average landed price has been trending downward (-32%) over 2011-2015. Commercial Bluefin tuna harvesting takes place between July and November and occurred mainly in NAFO divisions 4T, 4X, and 4W. Most Canadian Bluefin tuna harvesters fish and land in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

Figure 2: Canadian Bluefin Tuna Average Landed Price (1996-2015)Footnote 3

Figure 2: Canadian Bluefin Tuna Average Landed Price (1996-2015)

Figure 2 - Bluefin tuna average landed price ($/kg) 1996-2015

Year Average Landed Price (CAD/kg)
1996 21.11
1997 22.63
1998 17.07
1999 17.09
2000 23.45
2001 21.00
2002 21.39
2003 22.26
2004 16.98
2005 15.65
2006 14.39
2007 13.96
2008 19.24
2009 13.67
2010 14.63
2011 19.15
2012 18.26
2013 15.71
2014 13.04
2015 13.05

Average landed prices for Bluefin tuna have steadily declined since the mid-1990s (Figure 2). Landed prices dipped to historical lows in 2014 ($13.04/kg), mainly due to weak demand in Asian markets as a result of recessionary pressures. Most recently, since 2011, average landed prices have decreased from a high of $19.15/kg in 2011 to $13.05/kg in 2015.

From 2011 to 2015, the majority (78%) of Bluefin tuna was landed using angling and rod and reel fishing gear in the directed fishery. Long line (13%), harpoon (5%), and traps (3%) were the other primary gear types employed in the directed fishery.


Figure 3: Canadian Bluefin Tuna Export Volume and Value (2012-2016)Footnote 4Footnote 5

Figure 3: Canadian Bluefin Tuna Export Volume and Value (2012-2016)

Figure 3 - Bluefin tuna export value and volume 2012-2016

2012 6.6 372
2013 7.6 382
2014 6.8 345
2015 9.0 436
2016 7.4 323

Canadian export volumes of Bluefin tuna fluctuated somewhat over 2012-2016, ranging between 323 tonnes and 436 tonnes annually (Figure 3). Export values ranged between $6.6M and $9.0M annually over the same time period. Most recently in 2016, 323 tonnes of Bluefin tuna was exported from Canada worth $7.3M. The average export price in 2016 was the highest over 2012-2016, reaching $22.78/kg, a 28% increase from 2012.

Table 3: Canadian Export Values of Bluefin Tuna by Country of Destination, 2012-2016 (millions $CDN)Footnote 6
Country of Destination 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Japan $4.52 $5.46 $5.31 $7.16 $6.11
United States $1.05 $2.15 $1.46 $1.85 $1.25
Hong Kong $0.02 $0.01 - - -
Others (5) $0.01 $0.01 $0.03 - -
Total $6.60 $7.63 $6.80 $9.00 $7.36

The vast majority (99% from 2012-2016) of Canadian exports of Bluefin tuna are destined for either Japan or the United States (U.S.) (Table 4). From 2012-2016, Japan accounted for 79% of total Bluefin tuna export value and 78% of total Bluefin tuna export volume. During the same time period, the U.S. accounted for 21% of the total Bluefin tuna export value and 22% of the total Bluefin tuna export volume. The vast majority (99%) of Bluefin tuna exported was in a fresh or chilled form. Very few (less than 1%) exports of live or frozen Bluefin tuna occurred from 2012-2016.From 2012-2016, Japan imported on average $5.9M of Bluefin tuna from Canada annually, and the U.S. imported on average $1.5M. Japan consumes about 80% of Bluefin tuna caught worldwide7 . In Japan, imported Bluefin tuna is mainly destined for the sashimi market, ultimately distributed to the restaurant, supermarket, and catering sectors. Demand in the U.S. is also driven by the sushi restaurant sector.

Hook and release fishery

The department does not collect information on the number of people onboard Bluefin tuna charter vessels or on the amount charged to clients by charter boat operators. However, it is estimated that this charter fishery generates annual total gross revenue upward of $1.5M for the licence holders involved. There is also an indirect economic gain (ie. taxis, hotels, restaurants); However the department has not done an economic assessment of the indirect income generated due to a lack of available data.

4. Management issues

Fisheries issues

  1. Compliance with commercial fishery licence conditions:
    1. high-grading
    2. transhipping
  2. Compliance with Bluefin Tuna Charter Guidelines:
    1. exceeding the maximum number of hookups per day
    2. failure to release in a manner that causes least amount of harm
  3. Incomplete/inaccurate logbooks in both commercial and charter fisheries
  4. Lack of a centralized logbook database that is in acceptable format for all departmental personnel to access (Science, Management, Conservation & Protection).
  5. Safety at sea

Depleted species concerns

  1. In 2010, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed Atlantic Bluefin tuna as endangered. In 2017, the Government of Canada took the decision not to list Bluefin tuna under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) due to increases in the biomass and stock status between the time of the initial assessment and the decision, as well as the potential significant and immediate socio-economic impacts on industry from the application of the general prohibitions. The species will continue to be managed under the Fisheries Act and in accordance with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Further information on the rationale for this decision, including consultation responses and stock assessments, is available online in the Canada Gazette here. Please refer to Appendix 2 for SARA commitments as part of the “Do Not List” decision.

International issues

  1. The United States is implementing the import provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act following court direction. The import rule requires countries exporting fish and fish products to the United-States to demonstrate that they have regulatory measures in place that are comparable in effectiveness to those of the U.S. for reducing marine mammal incidental mortality and serious injury in commercial fisheries. Countries who fail to obtain such comparability measures to the U.S. for their export fisheries by January 1, 2022, will be prohibited from entering the United-States market.
  2. The eBCD (electronic Bluefin Tuna Catch Document) system was developed by ICCAT for the purpose of identifying the origin of any Bluefin tuna in order to support the implementation of conservation and management measures. The new system has been operational since May 1, 2016 and is mandatory for all Western Bluefin that are caught and traded to be entered into this new system.

5. Objectives

Stock conservation

Long Term:

  1. Continue to meet ICCAT obligations as outlined in Recommendation 17-06.

Short term:

  1. Keep fishing mortality numbers within the acceptable scientific limits.
  2. Ensure the charter boat fishery is monitored to ensure consistent application of the guidelines.
  3. Improve the accuracy of logbook data entry for both commercial and charter boat fishery.


Long term:

  1. Continue to monitor the impact of the fishery on bycatch species including sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles.

Short term:

  1. Keep fishing mortality of vulnerable species to a minimum (by limiting bycatch) with emphasis on least possible harm.


Long term:

  1. Continue to ensure stakeholder engagement in management and science.

Short term:

  1. Stakeholder involvement in management decision-making processes and in data collection projects that contribute to science initiatives.

Social, cultural, economic

Long term:

Short term:


Long term:

  1. Commercial/Charter – Promote safety at sea.

Short term:


  1. Implement measure to address safety at sea concerns.

6. Access and allocation

The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reasons, modify access, allocations and sharing arrangements as outlined in this IFMP in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.

There are six jurisdictions that receive quota allocations from the Western Atlantic Bluefin tuna stock: Japan, Canada, United States, Mexico, France in respect to St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Bermuda. Each country is responsible for implementing measures to ensure catches by their fleet are not exceeded. The Canadian quota is divided between the seven inshore fleets, after an established yearly amount (67.76t) is removed for bycatch in the pelagic longline and offshore licence holders and for science activities Canada’s sharing arrangement has been stable since 2012 (Table 7). See Appendix 2 for historic TAC information.

Table 7. Sharing arrangement
Fleets Fleet % Fleet quota
Prince Edward Island 30.02 -
Newfoundland 12.84 -
Gulf New Brunswick 7.81 -
Quebec 5.09 -
Gulf Nova Scotia 11.27 -
Southwest Nova Scotia 21.70 -
St. Margaret's Bay 11.27 -
PLL by-catch in the Central North Atlantic (East of 54 Degrees, 30 Minutes) - 15t
PLL by-catch(West of 54 Degrees, 30 Minutes) - 18.76t
Offshore (by-catch) - 20t
Science - 10t

7. Shared stewardship

The Atlantic Large Pelagics Advisory Committee (ALPAC) is the main body though which the department receives industry views on the management of large pelagic fisheries in Canadian waters. The ALPAC group is made up of departmental representatives, Indigenous organizations, fish harvesters, processors, representatives from each of the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec, and environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs).

ALPAC meets every winter to review the previous year’s fishery. The Committee provides advice and recommendations for the management of the fishery in line with established obligations under ICCAT and Canadian fishery objectives.

There is also a smaller ICCAT advisors group made up of a select number of large pelagic fleet representatives that meets several times per year in order to provide strategic input into the Canadian positions and recommendations for the annual meetings of ICCAT.

Fleet Conservation Harvesting Plans (CHPs) are plans that are developed by industry, and submitted to the department annually to ensure an open and transparent understanding of how the fishing activity will be managed by each fleet (see Appendix 4).

8. Compliance

Conservation and protection program description

The Conservation and Protection (C&P) program promotes and maintains compliance with legislation, regulations, and management measures implemented to achieve the conservation and sustainable use of Canada’s aquatic resources, and the protection of species at risk, fish habitat, and oceans.

To achieve conservation objectives, C&P personnel employ a balanced management and enforcement approach, guided by the following enforcement model (Three Pillars):

All Compliance Management Plans should be consistent with the National Compliance Framework and the DFO Compliance Model. More information can be found on both of these documents at the following internet site:


Regional compliance program delivery

In addition to, and in support of, the department’s conservation objectives, a robust regulatory framework that includes the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Fishery (General) Regulations, the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, and the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations is applied in commercial fisheries by fishery officers, including the tuna fishery.

The following provides a description of compliance activities carried out by C&P in the tuna Fishery:


Shared stewardship and education are achieved in the tuna fishery through an emphasis on communication with clients:

Compliance performance

MCS activities for 2014 to 2016 for Bluefin tuna fisheries on the east coast (commercial, and recreational). 

  2014 2015 2016 Yearly Average
Total of fishery officer hours 2177.25 2900 2882.50 2653.25
Total fishery officer patrol hours 1526.50 2162 2177.25 1955.25
Number of vessels checked 1572 1292 730 1198
Number of vehicles checked 17 64 24 35
Number of persons checked 990 769 567 775
Number of gear checks 4483 465 4845 3264
Number of site checks 996 1437 1109 1181
Number of detected violations  67 58 61 62
Number of charges laid 39 8 6 18
Number of warnings 51 39 47 46

Current compliance issues


The primary compliance issues in the commercial tuna fishery are:


The primary compliance issues in the recreational tuna fishery are:

Compliance strategy

C&P develops yearly operational plans outlining MCS objectives. The plans promote effective monitoring and enable personnel to report on management measures governing the commercial tuna fishery. Operational plans provide field staff with direction to ensure compliance objectives are achieved. VMS, inspections, fishing logs, DMP records, at-sea observer records, and purchase transactions are examples of the information sources available to access compliance.

The primary focus of C&P efforts for the duration of this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan will be on verifying compliance of the requirement to report accurately all fishing activities related to this species. A secondary focus will be on the detection of unmonitored landings in certain regions.

In addition, C&P continually assess other means to effectively conduct MCS compliance in fisheries with existing resources through:


The regulatory requirement to tag tuna, once it has been killed, has been identified as a potential safety issues when in rough weather conditions. To mitigate this risk, dart tags have been implemented for some fleets. Dart tags are temporary tags that are easier/safer to apply than the regular DFO tags when the weather is unsafe.


9. Performance review

  1. The department of Fisheries and Oceans has implemented an annual Sustainability Survey for Fisheries that helps to describe the overall state of each Canadian fishery and is a tool used by the Department to help identify areas of the fishery where improvements may be required. Results of the annual assessments are published on the DFO website.
  2. Additionally, the department undertakes post season reviews of large pelagic fisheries on a regional and an Atlantic wide basis. Information from these assessments is addressed at regional large pelagic advisory committee meetings and at the Atlantic wide meeting of the Atlantic Large Pelagic Advisory Committee (ALPAC).
  3. ALPAC is fundamental to evaluating the state of the Canadian fishery. It is the forum where stakeholders, Indigenous groups and other partners have the opportunity to provide input into the decision making process, assess previous year’s results and make recommendations on management of the fishery. It is also the main forum for sharing important scientific information and organizing scientific projects. This meeting ensures that all relevant parties are involved in addressing identified issues and for providing input on possible solutions.


Abundance: Number of individuals in a stock or a population.

Biomass: Total weight of all individuals in a stock or a population.

By-catch: The unintentional catch of one species when the target is another.

Communal Commercial Licence: Licence issued to Indigenous organizations pursuant to the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licences Regulations for participation in the general commercial fishery.

Conservation Harvesting Plan (CHP): An annual plan submitted by each fleet and approved by the department that includes management measures to ensure fleet’s do not exceed their quotas, minimize by-catch, encourage economic prosperity and enhance scientific information.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Committee of experts that assess and designate which wild species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada.

Dockside Monitoring Program (DMP): A monitoring program that is conducted by a company that has been designated by the department, which verifies the species composition and landed weight of all fish landed from a commercial fishing vessel.

Landings: Quantity of a species caught and landed.

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY): Largest average catch that can continuously be taken from a stock.

Observer Coverage: When a licence holder is required to carry an officially recognized observer onboard their vessel for a specific period of time to verify all catches (directed and incidental), the area in which it was caught, and the method by which it was caught.

Population: Group of individuals of the same species, forming a breeding unit, and sharing a habitat.

Precautionary Approach: Set of agreed cost-effective measures and actions, including future courses of action, which ensures prudent foresight, reduces or avoids risk to the resource, the environment, and the people, to the extent possible, taking explicitly into account existing uncertainties and the potential consequences of being wrong. 

Quota: Portion of the total allowable catch that a unit such as vessel class, fleet, country, etc. is permitted to take from a stock in a given period of time.

Recruitment: Amount of individuals that will become part of the exploitable stock in the future, e.g., that can be caught in a fishery.

Species at Risk Act (SARA): The Act is a federal government commitment to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and secure the necessary actions for their recovery. It provides the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.

Spawning Stock: Refers to the sexually mature individuals in a stock.

Stock: Describes a population of individuals of one species found in a particular area, and is used as a unit for fisheries management. Ex: NAFO area 4R herring.

Stock Assessment: Scientific evaluation of the status of a species belonging to the same stock within a particular area in a given time period. 

Total Allowable Catch (TAC): The amount of catch that may be taken from a stock.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK): A cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment. 

Tonne (t): Metric tonne, which is 1000kg or 2204.6lbs.

Appendix 1: Stock assessment results

Further information regarding the stock assessment can be found in the preliminary assessment and the detailed 2017 stock assessment reports (

Appendix 2: Management measures

Monitoring and Enforcement of Canada’s tuna management measures are a key part in ensuring the sustainability of the tuna species.

Harvesters must also abide by strict licence conditions, which include:

Other measures:

Total allowable catch
Year TAC (t)
2015 452.47
2016 452.47
2017 452.47
2018 530.59
2019 530.59
2020 530.59

The Western Bluefin tuna TAC was increased from 2000t in 2017 to 2350t in 2018-2020. The Canadian quota increased from 452.57t in 2017 to 530.59t in 2018. This includes 15t provided by ICCAT to account for by catch from central North Atlantic (east of 54 degrees).

Fishing season

The Bluefin tuna commercial fishing season runs from January 1 through December 31 each year. However, the main directed fishery usually commences in late July and concludes in mid to late November.

A catch and release fishery is also permitted during the commercial season for existing Bluefin tuna licence holders. This fishery must follow a separate set of guidelines specific for catch and release activities. The charter boat fishery takes place between September - October off Nova Scotia, July - October in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and July 15 - December 31 in Newfoundland and Labrador

Control and monitoring of removals

All Bluefin tuna must be tagged before they are brought to port. A dockside monitoring officer must be present at all offloads to weigh the fish, ensure the fish has been tagged, and to ensure the Bluefin tuna catch document (BCD) is filled out properly. One copy is to be sent to the department, one copy stays with the buyer, and one copy stays with the fishermen. Each tuna must then be entered into the Electronic Bluefin Tuna Catch Document System (eBCD).

In 2016/17, in collaboration with harvesters, the department undertook a Risk Assessment for Catch and Data Monitoring to evaluate information being collected by fleets participating in the directed Bluefin tuna fishery. As a result of the assessment, changes to reporting and catch monitoring are being implemented to address identified gaps.

Management measures to meet fishery objectives

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with its stakeholders and Indigenous groups, strive to manage this fishery to maximize economic benefits in an ecologically sustainable manner. The long-term objectives from Section 5 relate to conservation and sustainable harvest, stewardship, economic prosperity and safety at sea. Corresponding short term objectives and management measures have been implemented, or are in the process of being developed.

Objective  Management measures
Keep fishing mortality within acceptable scientific limits


  • Canadian catches within established quota
  • Minimum legal size (30kg) for retention in licence conditions
  • Established sharing arrangement for fleets
  • Transferable quotas between fleets
  • Quota carry-over provisions (up to 10% of fleets quota)
  • Mandatory hail-in and hail-out for all fishing trips
  • 6 of the 7 directed inshore fleets are required to take a video monitoring device (camera) or an observer when requested by DFO
  • 100% Dockside Monitoring of all landings by 3rd party independent contractor
  • Mandatory use of the eCBD system for all landings
  • Undertake Catch Monitoring Risk Assessment**


  • Atlantic wide guidelines to ensure the least amount of harm is placed on the fish
  • Mandatory training on “best handling practices” to maximize survivability
  • Requirement for a video monitoring device (camera) or an observer when requested by DFO
Ensure the charter boat fishery is monitored to ensure consistent application of the guidelines
  • Mandatory hail-in and hail-out for all trips
  • 5% observer coverage of fishing trips
  • Implementation of video monitoring
  • At-sea enforcement by Conservation and Protection officers
  • Undertake catch monitoring risk assessment**
Improve the accuracy of logbook data collection for commercial fishery
  • Mandatory log books
  • Review and update of commercial logbook to ensure appropriate data is being collected (consultation with science and industry)**
  • Audit of observer databases to ensure they accurately reflect observer reports
  • Ensure science has access to all available data including observer databases
Improve the accuracy of logbook data collection for the catch and release fishery
  • Mandatory log book requirement
  • Review and update of charter logbook to ensure appropriate data is being collected ( in consultation with science and industry)**
  • Ensure scientists have access to the charter logbook data through development of a charter database
Keep fishing mortality of vulnerable species to moderate levels by limiting bycatch
  • Use fishing practices that promote avoidance with by-catch species
  • Adherence to Fisheries and Oceans Canada work plan to address incidental catch in Canadian large pelagic fisheries
  • Adherence to Nova Scotia Swordfish Association (NSSA) code of Conduct for responsible sea turtle handling, leatherback recovery strategy and Atlantic Canadian Loggerhead turtle Conservation Action Plan (i.e., 100% mandatory circle hooks,longer gangion lines as well as requirements for proper handling and release of identified species including leatherback turtles and several shark species
  • Area closure for bottlenose whales (The Gully Marine Protected Area)
  • Adhere to Canadian limits for allowable incidental catch species such as Porbeagle Shark, Bigeye tuna, Albacore tuna, Yellowfin tuna and Bluefin tuna
Stakeholders and Indigenous groups continue to be involved in management decisions and in data collection projects that contribute to science initiatives
  • ALPAC is the forum for the Department to both report on science work as well as to discuss and organize new scientific projects
  • Work with Indigenous groups to develop approaches to enhance Indigenous participation in the decision making process

Provide opportunity for fleets to address over capacity issues

Work with ICCAT contracting parties to negotiate additional fishing opportunities using inter country transfers

  • The Newfoundland & Labrador fleet, South West Nova Scotia, Gulf New Brunswick have revised their management plans to promote rationalization. Other fleets are looking at measures to address capacity
  • The ICCAT recommendation for Bluefin tuna adopted at the November 2017 annual meeting includes provisions for the possible transfer of quota to Canada from Mexico and other Western Atlantic quota holders.
Conduct additional post release mortality studies
  • A post release mortality study was conducted in 2017 using acoustic survey equipment and will continue in the 2018 season.This complements a previous Canadian study on this issue
Implement measure to address safety at sea concerns
  • Implementation in 2017 of dart tags for some fleets. A temporary tag that is easier to attach to a tuna that remains in the water when conditions are unsafe to use the standard DFO issued Bluefin tuna tag
**refers to SARA commitments as part of the “Do Not List” decision

Species at Risk (SARA)

It is the combined efforts of these management measures that contributed to the “do not list” SARA listing and will collectively ensure a sustainable Bluefin tuna fishery. As part of the “do not list” status, the department has developed a work plan that consists of specific departmental commitments to ensure Canada maintains its strict management of this fishery. These specific commitments include undertaking a Catch Monitoring Risk Assessment to evaluate current monitoring and observer coverage and a review of commercial and charter logbooks.

Key decision rules in the fishery

  1. Transfers are permitted to take place between inshore fleets and the pelagic longline fleet and/or offshore tuna licence holder. Transfers are temporary, and are only for the year in which they are made.
  2. Any uncaught quota of less than 10% will be carried over to the following year for that fleet rather than being transferred back to the Canadian quota.
  3. A maximum harvest limit of 35t in the ex-sector fisheries will remain in place. Fleets may reduce this amount if they wish.
  4. Transferred quota from Mexico will be allocated under a Use of Fish collaborative agreement to interested fleets based on the existing sharing arrangement.
  5. Video monitoring equipment may be placed on vessels from any fleet at the discretion of Conservation and Protection.
  6. All catch and release licence holders must take the “Best Handling Practices” training course before their licence will be issued.


Eligible commercial harvesters will be issued commercial Bluefin tuna licence.

Eligible hook and release fishers (charter boat operators) will be issued a section 52 licence. They must also hold a commercial Bluefin tuna licence in order to receive a section 52 licence.

The Maritimes, Quebec and Newfoundland regions follow the Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada. The Gulf Region uses, the Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for the Gulf Region.

Habitat protection measures

The spawning grounds for Western Atlantic Bluefin are located in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing is prohibited in this area to protect the spawning grounds.

License conditions contain closed area restrictions to fishing to protect the tuna stocks being harvested, minimize bycatch and protect sensitive areas like the Gully Marine Protected Area;

Appendix 3: Post season review

2017 Landings in tonnes
Fleet Landings in
Traditional Waters
NL 29.612 29.365 58.977
SWNS 75.843 14.249 90.092*
Quebec 20.136 0 20.138
GNB 32.071 11.439 43.51
GNS 43.122 1.050 44.172
PEI 124.146 0 124.146
SMB 12.627 0 12.627
Offshore + Pelagic Longline by-catch 73.818 0 73.818
Science tagging 0 0 0
International Tournament 2.415 0 2.415
TOTAL 413.775 56.103 469.895
*includes 4Wd and Wedgeport

Appendix 4: Departmental contacts

National Headquarters (Ottawa) Resource Manager:
Jessica Kerwin (613) 990-0102

Gulf Regional Resource Manager:
Mario Gaudet (506) 851-3526

Maritimes Regional Resource Manager:
Carl MacDonald (902) 293-8257

Newfoundland Regional Resource Manager:
Erin Dunne (709) 772-4680

Quebec Regional Resource Manager:
Antoine Rivierre (418) 640-2636

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