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Albacore (Thunnus alalunga)
Written by: Dr. Larry G. Allen
Out of all the different kinds of fish I have caught in my life, no other conjures up as many fond memories as albacore. In the late spring of each year of my youth, my father would go crazy in anticipation of the first albacore caught in southern California waters. The last albacore I caught was back in 1985, the last year we had a significant run of longfins off southern California. In recent years, you had to go north to catch longfins. As I write this, albacore are being tallied by several central California sport landings. I would not expect albacore off southern California again until we get a few cooler water years under our belts! Here is a brief summary of what we know about these great eating and fighting tuna.
SCIENTIFIC NAME - Thunnus alalunga, family Scombridae (mackerels and tunas)
COMMON NAMES - Albacore, longfin, longfin tuna, albies, albacora (Mexico)
DISTRIBUTION - World-wide in temperate and subtropical seas. In the northeast Pacific albacore have been taken as far north a Alaska and as far south as the Revillagigedos Islands, Mexico. Albacore occur in all the major oceans of the world in temperate and subtropical waters with northern and southern Hemisphere populations in the Atlantic and Pacific.
SIZE & AGE - To 4.5 feet and 96 pounds. Although they are difficult to age, albacore probably live to 10 years. Two year old fish are about 24 inches long, and a 36 inch fish is five years old. The 3-, 4-, and 5- year old albacore undertake incredible, 12,000-15,000 mile, trans-Pacific migrations from Mexican, U.S., and Alaskan waters to Japan.
DIET - Sardines, anchovies, squid, krill and pelagic red crabs.
REPRODUCTION - Albacore begin maturing when they are about 3 feet long (5 years). Adults which are 6 years and older generally do not migrate extensively, staying near the spawning areas of the western subtropical Pacific between Hawaii and Japan. Female albacore produce between 800,000-2,600,000 eggs per season. Baby albacore remain near these West Pacific spawning areas for the first two years of life.
FISHERY - Southern California sport anglers go absolutely wacko over albacore. The first albacore of the season invariably sets off an epidemic of "albacore fever" that extends from San Diego to northern California. Sport catches of albacore have fluctuated widely over the last 40 years. "Good" albacore years were encountered in 1950-52, 1955-57, 1960-72, 1975-78, and 1984-85, all cooler water years. The last ten years, sea surface temperatures have been warmer than normal, and the albacore have migrated into the waters north of southern California. This resulted in extremely low catches for the bulk of the sportfishing fleet over the last decade. Off California, anglers typically catch longfins from 12 to 35 pounds which are the 3-to 5-ear old, migratory fish.