Bluefin vs. Yellowfin Tuna: Looks, Taste, and More

Oct 11, 2023 | 4 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 4 minutes

For big game anglers, fishing for Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna is as good as it gets. Not only are the two fantastic fighters, but their culinary value is also off the charts. Bluefins and Yellowfins can sometimes look very similar, and on top of that, they often share common habitats. This can make it tricky to tell the difference between Bluefin vs. Yellowfin Tuna. But don’t worry, this quick guide will help you tell them apart in no time.

an angler holding a big Bluefin Tuna on a fishing boat
Can you guess which Tuna this is?

As you may know, Bluefin Tuna is actually not a single species. It’s a group of three distinct species of fish. These are the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Bluefin. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on comparing the two types of Bluefin that are most widespread and most commonly confused with Yellowfin Tuna. These are the Atlantic and Pacific Bluefin Tuna.

Before we dissect the differences between Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna, we’re going to take a look at where you can find these fish in the ocean. If you already know which waters your favorite fish inhabits, scroll down to the Appearance section.

Habitat

Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin Tuna are widespread around the world. Although they mostly swim beyond the continental shelves, Yellowfins also approach shallower waters when the temperatures are higher. They are often seen prowling around mid-ocean islands. Generally speaking, Yellowfins prefer more temperate waters compared to Bluefins.

In the eastern Pacific, Yellowfins are found around the Hawaiian archipelago, as well as many islands off Baja California. This is why they have become a favorite catch on California long range fishing trips.

an angler holding a big Yellowfin Tuna on a fishing boat
That’s one bucket list Yellowfin.

On the Atlantic side, you can find Yellowfin from Nova Scotia down to North Carolina. Further to the south, they’re found throughout the Caribbean, as well as around Bermuda, The Azores, The Canary Islands, Saint Helena, and Ascension Island to the east. Yellowfins also inhabit the waters around South Africa and Madagascar, as well as the shores of Western Australia.

Bluefin Tuna

You can find Atlantic Bluefins throughout the Atlantic Ocean. They mostly keep to North America’s eastern coastline, with one portion of the population migrating to the Mediterranean, and the other to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.

Pacific Bluefins are similarly widespread throughout the Pacific Ocean. As juveniles, they make a long swim from the shores of Japan to the western Pacific. Here, they swim from Washington state all the way down to Mexico. After several years of maturing, they return to the Philippine Sea and the Sea of Japan to spawn.

That’s a lot of information. Let’s sum that up with a visual:

Appearance

Bluefin Tuna grow significantly larger than Yellowfin Tuna. Where Bluefins can reach a massive 1,000 pounds, Yellowfins usually top out in the 400–500 lb range. However, younger Bluefins can easily be confused with their adult Yellowfin relatives. Luckily, there are a few key features that set them apart:

1. The pectoral fin on a Bluefin Tuna does not reach past the beginning of the second dorsal fin. A Yellowfin’s pectoral fin is noticeably longer.

2. The underside of a Bluefin’s body is silver, with uneven lines. On a Yellowfin, the underside is silver as well, but there’s also a distinctive yellow lateral line.

3. The second dorsal fin on a Bluefin is a mixture of gray and yellow. On a Yellowfin, the second dorsal fin is bright yellow.

4. The tail on a Bluefin is dark blue in color, unlike the yellow-and-gray combination on a Yellowfin.

Again, that might be a little difficult to grasp, so let’s take a look at what these differences actually look like. 

Bluefin vs. Yellowfin Tuna Appearance

Bluefin vs. Yellowfin Tuna Taste

Bluefin Tuna are the most prestigious and luxurious fish money can buy. Because of their delicious fatty meat, they’ve become a sought-after dish in many high-end restaurants. They are the perfect choice for sashimi or Tuna steak. In Japan, a local restaurant chain recently bought a single Bluefin for a whopping $3 million! 

You can mostly find Bluefin Tuna in restaurants these days. Sometimes, you can find Bluefin in supermarkets, but these are likely farmed, lacking the quality and richness of flavor wild-caught Bluefins have.

sliced raw Bluefin Tuna kiriotoshi
Sliced raw Bluefin Tuna kiriotoshi

In comparison to Bluefin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna meat is leaner, with a lighter taste. While it may lack the coveted fat content of Bluefin Tuna, Yellowfin meat is still of great quality. Yellowfin meat is great for sashimi and steaks. You can also find Yellowfin Tuna in tins. Whichever form you find it in, you’ll notice that Yellowfin meat is considerably more affordable than that of Bluefin.

Conservation

One of the most significant differences between Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna is their conservation status. While Yellowfin Tuna can be found in relative abundance throughout their range, Bluefin Tuna are a different matter entirely.

Because of their delicious meat, some Bluefin subspecies have been overfished to the brink of extinction. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed Atlantic Bluefin Tuna as “endangered” and Southern Bluefin Tuna as “critically endangered”.

Therefore, if you’re buying Tuna for food, we urge you to always make sure you’re making the most sustainable choice.

So there you have it – now you know how to tell Bluefin and Yellowfin Tuna apart. All you have to do now is catch one!

What’s your favorite Tuna species? Have you ever caught a Tuna? Let us know in the comments below.

Author profile picture

Sean is an optometrist who left his day job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.

Comments (37)

kent

Nov 26, 2023

nice view !! Thank you for your kindness

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Jeff

Jul 6, 2022

Very helpful. Great article and photos/graphics.

On your image, I think your arrow correctly points to the 2nd dorsal fin (top, rear of fish) for the bluefin, however it incorrectly points to the anal fin (instead of the 2nd dorsal) for the yellowfin (bottom, rear of fish).

It took me a while to figure out what I wasn’t understanding…I think this error explains it.

Thanks!

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    Andriana

    Jul 6, 2022

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for reading, I’m glad if you liked the article. You make a good point, the arrow on the graphic doesn’t quite reach the second dorsal fin, so it does get confusing. We’ll change it to make it clearer. Thanks for pointing it out.

    All the best!

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    Jeffrey

    Apr 6, 2023

    You must be kidding Jeff.

    The arrow pointing to the anal fin (instead of the 2nd dorsal) on the yellowfin is correct and very obvious to the average reader.

    I do not believe it can be mistaken for any other part of the yellowfin.

    Therefore, I conclude that your claim is utter blasphemy.

    May you reply to further discuss this matter?

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    Rhys

    Apr 6, 2023

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Rhys here from FishingBooker. Thanks for your comment. We ended up changing the image from the original (which I think Jeff was referring to), as it was more confusing than the current one. I’m glad to see, as you’ve confirmed, that there is no longer any confusion.

    Tight lines,

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Mary Ellen

Mar 23, 2022

Your articles are just wonderful! Filled with excellent and new info, holds the reader’s attention, and easy to understand. We just enjoyed a great meal of seared yellow fin and veggies and I am so happy. Its probably been at least 6 months since our last; I don’t intend to let that happen again. TYVM

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    Vuk

    Mar 23, 2022

    Hi Mary Ellen,

    Thanks for getting in touch. We’re glad you liked the article enough to leave such a positive comment! Nothing beats a good fish for lunch as far as we’re concerned.

    Tight lines,
    Vuk

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Scott Bullis

Dec 21, 2020

SORRY CHARLIE NO TUNA TODAY, only bearded clams Stan.

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    Sean

    Dec 23, 2020

    Hi Scott,

    Wow, what a blast from the past!

    Those old commercials really had charm. Not to mention that Tuna were a lot more abundant back in the day.

    Thanks for sharing, and have a good one!

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Kaz

Dec 2, 2020

Thanks Burk. Received some Toro from a friend that I’ve got frozen at -88 degrees for New Years. Looks like Fisherman’s landing is reporting a good late season bite now on Blue fins close in. Covid restrictions apply with bedding. I’ve watched the attrition of Mediterranean blue fins which is recovering and the movement of the large Spanish commercial fleet into the Pacific spawning grounds. I know some folks are tracking this but who enforces the catch?

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    Sean

    Dec 4, 2020

    Hi Kaz,

    Thanks for sharing.

    In the U.S., the commercial and recreational catch limits are managed by NOAA Fisheries. Each country has their own regulatory organization, but there are also regional commissions that, if I’m not mistaken, report to the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    A Toro dinner sounds like a perfect way to spend New Year’s, good for you!

    Thanks for reading, and all the best.

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Burks

Nov 3, 2020

…In fact, I must correct myself aswell.
There is on more species of bluefin tuna, because Atlantic bluefin and Pacific bluefin are different species: Thunnus thunnus vs Thunnus orientalis.

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Burks

Nov 3, 2020

Well, Bluefin tuna is not a group of 5 species, but only 2: Northern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus), and Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii). The others tunas are not ‘bluefin’, but Yellowfin, Bigeye, …
In this article you speak about Northern bluefin and Yellowfin.
And about distribution, remember that Northern bluefin tuna is also found in northern Atlantic, in waters close to Island, where some bluefins go to feed after spawning in Mediterranean sea, and where they are caught by longliner fleet.
Regards.

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    Sean

    Nov 3, 2020

    Hi Burks,

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    You’re absolutely correct in saying that Bluefins aren’t a group of five species. However, I’m not sure that there are only two species of Bluefin.

    The common name “Bluefin Tuna” is used to describe the entire Thunnus genus. This means that the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus), Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) and Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) are all members of the same genus.

    Until recently, even the Bigeye Tuna (Thunnus obesus) was thought to be of the same group. However, recent DNA analyses have revealed that the species actually belongs to the Neothunnus subgenera, which meant that they were more closely related to species like the Yellowfin. Here’s a useful article that lists several studies that point this out.

    As far as Bluefin migration is concerned, that’s completely right. We actually wrote a whole separate article on the topic. If you’re interested in reading it, you can check it out here.

    Thanks again for pointing out the mistake in this article. We’ve altered the text to show the correct information.

    Have a great day!

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Silvia

Oct 31, 2020

Very good information. My husband just caught some blue fin. But I like to make poke from the yellow fin. So we will be having a poke contest.

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    Sean

    Nov 2, 2020

    Hi Silvia,

    Wow, that has the makings of one epic contest – do let us know who won!

    Thanks for sharing, and have a great day.

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    Jordon

    Dec 5, 2021

    Be sure to train your Yellowfin an electric move prior to your poke battle. I’m told that is super-effective against Bluefin’s water typing.

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Capitan

Sep 25, 2020

Yes, let’s catch the endangered species….

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    Sean

    Oct 5, 2020

    Hi Capitan,

    Thanks for reading.

    We completely understand what you’re thinking. That’s why we’ve written at length about Bluefin Tuna conservation status, as well as some best practices when choosing the most sustainable fish choice.

    As you correctly pointed out, this particular article didn’t mention Tuna conservation. We’ve added a short section on the topic so that everyone can be in the know about this important issue.

    Thank you again for reading, and have a great day!

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Michael

Aug 11, 2020

Hi Sean green article.
Somebody told me that only one or the other is available at a given time in other words if Bluefin is available than Yellowfin is not. Is there any truth at all to that? It does not seem likely to me but I just heard that recently?. Thanks for any information you might have. And also which is better for poke Yellowfin or bluefin?

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    Sean

    Aug 11, 2020

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for reading.

    In terms of seasonality, Bluefin and Yellowfin are actually available at very similar periods, at least in the US.

    It’s possible that certain retailers are offering the two fish at different times because they’re selling Tuna that’s imported from overseas.

    As for poke, Yellowfin Tuna is definitely the more commonly used of the two. Of course, you won’t go wrong with Bluefin, just be prepared to shell out a few more bucks.

    I hope that helps.

    Have a good one!

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Jeremy Lee

Jul 31, 2020

Thanks for the wonderful article.
Can I introduce it to my big game fishing club in Korea?

Hard to find a tuna in Korea, but more tunas every year.
Temp. of water is getting warmer so I don’t know… you need to modify the tuna map someday.

Be safe fishing with tons of fun.

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    Sean

    Jul 31, 2020

    Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for reading, I’m glad that you found the article useful.

    Absolutely, feel free to share any information from the article in your club.

    Sadly, you’re probably right, that map won’t stay accurate forever. Tuna populations are dwindling, especially those of Bluefin Tuna.

    Hopefully, through stricter regulations and good catch and release practices, we can allow these magnificent fish to recover. Time will tell.

    Thanks again for reading, and have a great day!

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Julie Nutter

Jul 7, 2020

Hello,
Thanks for your help.
We belong to New Hampshire Community Seafood (it’s a coop). Today we had the lovely suprise of fresh blue fin tuna in our weekly order, yummy, thanks for clearly stated info, we are soo lucky in times where people are struggling and searching for ways to support local food. Make it a great day, we are with full bellies. J

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    Sean

    Jul 8, 2020

    Hi Julie,

    Thanks for reading.

    That must’ve been some treat! Nothing tastes quite like a Bluefin, and when it’s locally and sustainably caught, the whole experience becomes even more enjoyable.

    Thanks for sharing and have a great day!

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STEVEN SALENTINE

Jul 2, 2020

I’m just wondering about the tune fishery in general? Also the difference in price between the two species? Are the two fisheries stable or endangered from overfishing? It would be a terrible thing to see any more species of any kind disappear from this planet. Unfortunately, humans seem to have a predisposition to destroy the things that matter most. We really aren’t very smart when it comes right down to it. Not everyone of course. But certainly enough. We, humans, aren’t even smart enough to stop destroying each other and the only planet we have. Sorry for the rant. Just the fisheries and prices I thought people would like to know.

Thank you for that great article!!!

STEVEN

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    Sean

    Jul 2, 2020

    Hi Steven,

    Thanks for reading.

    We completely agree, it’s really sad to see some of the world’s most incredible species being brought to the brink.

    To answer your question, Bluefin Tuna has become increasingly imperilled in recent years. There are three subspecies, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Bluefin Tuna. According to the IUCN, their respective statuses are “endangered”, “vulnerable”, and “critically endangered”. Therefore, if you really want to eat Bluefin Tuna, we recommend it be Atlantic.

    Yellowfin Tuna, on the other hand, are a much better choice from a sustainability standpoint. They should also be easier to find.

    In terms of pricing, Yellowfins are the considerably cheaper option. We actually wrote a whole article on how to make the best Tuna food choice.

    If you want to know more about making sustainable fish choices, check out this article.

    I hope you’ll find this helpful.

    Have a good one!

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Sammy

Jun 10, 2020

Really awesome! Never read such a great article on tuna like this – cheers

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    Albert

    Jun 10, 2020

    Hi Sammy,

    Thanks for getting in touch. I’m really glad you enjoyed the article!

    All the best!

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Fishman

Jun 7, 2020

Thank you very much

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    Sean

    Jun 8, 2020

    You’re welcome,

    Thanks for reading!

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Chuck

May 24, 2020

Thanks for the info.

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    Sean

    May 25, 2020

    Happy to help, Chuck,

    Thanks for reading!

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Mario

May 16, 2020

Thanks for the information.

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    Sean

    May 18, 2020

    Glad you found the article useful, Mario.

    Have a great day!

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Elvy

Mar 11, 2020

Thank you for such a detailed and educational information between these two species.

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    Sean

    Mar 11, 2020

    Thank you, Elvy,

    I’m glad you found the article useful.

    Have a great day!

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