The skipjack tuna is common yet smaller tuna often encountered off the coast of New England and the Mid-Atlantic States.
Atlantic skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) are also known around the world by several names, including striped tuna, ocean bonito, lesser tuna, and Aku. They are found in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters of all oceans on the planet. In the western Atlantic, skipjack tuna are found from Massachusetts to Brazil, including in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. They are a pelagic species that can be found to depths of 850-plus feet. Skipjack tuna tend to school by size and they are often associated with albacore, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, and sometimes with whales. Schools may also occur in association with floating objects. Juveniles are usually found in surface waters, and move into deeper water as they grow.
Skipjacks grow up to 3.6 feet in length and can weigh up to 50 pounds. The current world record is a 45-pound, 4-ounce fish caught by Brian Evans in the Gulf of Mexico on November 16, 1996. They have a life span of between 8 to 12 years of age. This species is highly migratory, and travels long distances.
Skipjack tuna do not have scales except on the corselet (the band of large, thick scales behind the head of the fish) and the faint lateral line running lengthwise down each side of the fish. Their back is dark purplish blue, and their lower sides and stomach are silvery with four to six conspicuous longitudinal dark bands, which may look like they have continuous lines of dark patches on their body.
Similar to other tropical tunas, skipjack tuna grow fast, up to over 3 feet and 40 pounds, and have a relatively short life span, around 7 years. In the eastern Atlantic, skipjack are able to reproduce when they are 1 year old. They spawn throughout the year in tropical waters and seasonally from spring to early fall in subtropical areas. Depending on their size, females can produce between 100,000 and 2 million eggs per year. Skipjack spawn more than once a season, as often as once per day.
Once fertilized, the eggs hatch in about a day (depending on the temperature). Skipjack tuna are opportunistic feeders, preying on a variety of fish including herrings, crustaceans, cephalopods, mollusks, and sometimes other skipjack tunas. Larger members have been known to eat their own kind. Large pelagics such as billfish, sharks, and other large tunas prey on skipjack tuna.
NOAA Fisheries and the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division manage the Atlantic skipjack tuna fishery in the United States. The specie is managed under the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan: Commercial fishermen must have a permit to harvest skipjack, and have gear restrictions. Federal management for Atlantic tunas applies to state waters as well, except in Maine, Connecticut, and Mississippi. NOAA Fisheries periodically review these states’ regulations to make sure they’re consistent with federal regulations.
Highly migratory species, such as skipjack tuna require complicated management policies that rely on international cooperation. The United States participates in regional fisheries management organizations, such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), to enhance tuna management worldwide. NOAA Fisheries sets regulations for the U.S. western Atlantic skipjack tuna fishery based on their science as well as conservation and management measures adopted by ICCAT. No specific ICCAT management measures currently apply to skipjack tuna.
In 2013, ICCAT adopted a measure to expand reporting requirements for tropical tuna fisheries using fish aggregating devices, or FADs. The measure will improve data collection and allow ICCAT scientists to better characterize the fishing effort associated with FAD fishing.
In 2000, the United States established the Dolphin-Safe Tuna Tracking and Verification Program to monitor the domestic production and importation of all frozen and processed tuna products nationwide and to authenticate any associated dolphin-safe claim.
Skipjack tuna is the specie most commonly used in canned tuna. It is primarily sold, as “canned light”, or “chunk light” tuna, and it is also available fresh, and frozen. Skipjack has the most identifiable taste of all the tropical tunas, and when raw, very good-quality skipjack meat is deep red. Smaller fish are lighter red. Cooked skipjack becomes light gray. Some canned skipjack maybe be mixed with yellow fin tuna when the species are not separated when caught. Some sushi markets prefer skipjack tuna because it is comparable to yellowfin tuna when fried, or grilled.