Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marine Policy


Teresa R. Johnson

Second Committee Member

James Wilson

Third Committee Member

Yong Chen


The Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thymus) is an extremely valuable and charismatic species inhabiting the North Atlantic Ocean and is present each summer in the Gulf of Maine. This highly migratory species crosses international boundaries and thus, is managed by both international and domestic entities. This purpose of this thesis is to provide a comprehensive description of the U.S. domestic fishery and to analyze the behavior and perspectives of its stakeholders. This thesis presents and then answers the question: Why do U.S. bluefin tuna fishermen comply with a strict management regime, despite the strong incentives to cheat? I interviewed fishermen, scientists, managers and enforcement agents throughout the northeastern United States in an effort to gain perspectives of the fishery from all stakeholder groups. Based on these interviews and additional site visits and research, I present a detailed description of the fishery. First, I provide background information about the bluefin tuna fishery, including the biological details of the species and the management structure used to govern it. Then I present a review of the literature dealing with the theory of rational choice and collective social dilemmas, both of which are applicable to understanding the current status of the fishery. Examples of fishery characteristics that are considered important to collective action are compared with the characteristics of the bluefin tuna fishery. A review of the theory behind rational choice and collective action suggests that the U.S. bluefin tuna fishery does not fit all of the characteristics of a community that would be expected to overcome the problems associated with rational choice and raises the question; why do fishermen comply with fisheries regulations under these circumstances? I analyze all stakeholder groups regarding their view of the U.S. bluefin tuna fishermen. Managers and enforcement agents agree that the regulations placed on U.S. bluefin tuna fishermen are strict and that incentives to violate regulations and over exploit the resource domestically are present. Additionally, while violations do occur, most domestic fishermen obey the rules, seemingly in contrast to what is expected from rational choice theory. Current issues with bluefin tuna science, according to scientists and industry members are described. I illustrate the process of both international and domestic management, along with the sources of distrust in managers by industry members. Finally a comparison of the characteristics of domestic and eastern stock fishing fleets and perspectives on enforcement are described in detail. My analysis suggests that U.S. bluefin tuna fishermen should not be expected to comply with the rules. In contrast, I find that based on the observations illustrated throughout the document, compliance with regulations within the bluefin tuna industry is motivated primarily by economic factors, making it a rational decision to comply with the regulations, despite what many consider to be problems with science, management and enforcement.