The tuna family is a large one. Often split into two tribes: Thunnini and Sardini. Thunnini, considered the “true tunas”, includes albacore, skipjack, blackfin, little tunny, yellowfin, and all three species of bluefin tuna. Sardini are more mackerel-like and include dogtooth tuna and several smaller bonitos. Keep reading to find more information about all the different types of tuna.
Albacore tuna have the longest pectoral fins of any tuna, a distinguishing attribute to set it apart from other tunas. Found throughout the Pacific Ocean, albacore are extremely popular in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Fishermen and women catch albacore by trolling live bait such as anchovies and sardines, but also find success using wooden plugs and other artificial lures. Albacore are also known as “the chicken of the sea” due to its white-colored meat; most canned tuna found in U.S. grocery stores is albacore.
A very popular fish in the Western Pacific, bigeye tuna is one of two species known as “ahi” (the other is yellowfin tuna). Bigeye are often confused with yellowfin tuna, but have less yellow on their sides and a darker blue across their top. They also have a distinctly larger eye than the yellowfin, hence the name. They are found throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, although they are in danger of being overfished in the Atlantic. Bigeye tuna can grow to more than 7 feet long and weigh as much as 400 pounds.
Blackfin tuna are the smallest tuna in the Thunnini family; they average 3 feet long and 45 pounds. They are found throughout the western Atlantic, from Boston to Brazil. They have the typical oval-shaped tuna body with distinct dark coloring along the top. Blackfin are also commonly caught while trolling live bait and artificial lures. They put up a strong fight and make for great table fare if prepared properly. Once caught, blackfin tuna are also great bait to entice larger pelagic tuna and billfish to your line.
Bluefin tuna is typically what comes to mind when someone mentions “tuna.” They are a prized gamefish for anglers throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Many anglers will troll a variety of live bait for tuna, such as cod, bluefish, mackerel, whiting, and herring. Bluefins are pelagic fish that can grow into monster-size fish, some weighing more than 1,000 pounds. Bluefin sashimi (raw tuna fillets) are very popular in Asian markets; some in Japan willing to pay extremely high prices.
The bonito looks and acts more like mackerel than tuna. It has a long, thin body with striped lines down its back. Bonito are small fish, rarely growing more than a foot long and weighing not much more than 12 pounds. They are found throughout the Pacific and Atlantic, and often have different names to differentiate the two (Pacific Bonito and Atlantic Bonito), although the only real differences are size and coloration. Bonito is also sometimes confused with little tunny. Many anglers will either use bonito as baitfish or will practice catch-and-release.
Also known as white tuna, dogtooth tuna are found throughout the Indo-Pacific area. They can grow as large as 6 feet long and weigh over 250 pounds. They prefer hunting near reefs and can be found in water from 30 to 900 feet deep. Many anglers will spearfish for dogtooth tuna, or they are caught accidentally by captains trolling with bait used for marlin, wahoo, or mackerel. Most recreational anglers will practice catch-and-release.
Little tunny is also known as “false albacore.” They are rather small, growing as much as 2 feet long and weighing up to 30 pounds. Little tunny have a distinct black pattern along their backs. They are found throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, with a high population found in the Atlantic from Boston to Brazil. This is a very popular tuna species for anglers fly fishing and using light tackle. Often times little tunny are used as baitfish for larger tunas due to their low food quality.
Skipjack tuna got its name because it likes to skip and jump across the surface of the ocean. Identified by the dark lines on their bellies, they are also known as arctic bonito and aku. Skipjack are on the small-side in the tuna family, often growing no more than 3 feet long and weighing less than 60 pounds. Found throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, most recreational anglers overlook this tuna when fishing. However, it is the most popular for commercial outfits. Skipjack is typically canned and known as “chunk light tuna.”
It’s not hard to see how the yellowfin got its name. Located in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, yellowfin are debatably the most popular tuna. They are pelagic and swim in schools, often found near dolphin (dorado or mahi mahi). They can grow over 6 feet and weigh as much as 200 pounds. While they can be found throughout the Atlantic Ocean, yellowfin have higher population in the Pacific Ocean, specifically western Pacific near Thailand and the Philippines. Yellowfin is also known as ahi, and people will often add to poke bowls and sushi rolls. Grilling and searing are great ways to cook up your next yellowfin tuna catch.