Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Marine Affairs

First Advisor

Seth Macinko


The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) comprised of over fifty cooperating states and fishing entities. It manages Northern Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Due to overfishing and ineffective management, the stock abundance of this species has declined to about thirty percent of its unfished biomass in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Publications point to this poor stock status as evidence of a fisheries management failure; it is commonly repeated that ICCAT’s mismanagement of the resource amounts to an international disgrace. To maintain bluefin tuna stocks at a level that can support maximum sustainable yield (MSY), ICCAT has implemented unique tools to manage this important fishery, which include Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limits, tuna ranching control measures, catch documentation, and others that are not employed in other ICCAT fisheries.

In this thesis research, I examine the factors that contribute to the tools utilized to manage the fishery in the ICCAT Convention Area to shed light on why they are managed differently than other ICCAT stocks. To do this, I conducted a literature review on publicly available ICCAT reports, governmental and non-governmental documents, peer reviewed scientific literature, and other sources to understand and explain the relevant importance of each contributing factor to the management of the species. I utilized key informant interview methodology to obtain insights from twelve bluefin tuna experts representing a variety of interests that attend ICCAT official meetings. I transcribed and collected insights from semi-structured interviews, which I used to ground-truth the findings of the literature review.

No single factor is responsible for the unique management in place to govern ICCAT’s bluefin tuna fishery. Rather, a nuanced interaction of many important factors contributes to the species’ poor stock status and unique management. The history and complex nature of the fishery, unique biology of the species, strong demand in the world sushi market, impact of Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and political will of ICCAT member countries to enforce Recommendations and Resolutions influence which measures are adopted and implemented. This finding contrasts peer reviewed literature and other information to the contrary that attribute the unique management and poor stock status of bluefin tuna to such factors as high market value of the species’ meat, ineffective ICCAT management, Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons,” or the “free riding” of noncooperating fishing entities fully.

Based on key informant interviews, expert respondents share a high level of agreement that the special, “iconic” status that bluefin tuna have attained in popular media, scientific publications, and in general public opinion is an important factor that contributes to their management. I argue that the powerful symbol that bluefin tuna has become in the policy realm affects its management in direct and indirect ways. This thesis research provides analyses of these various forces and the management context of the species, and shares recommendations for improving management of bluefin tuna and other ICCAT stocks.



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