Both old and new information on the biology and ecology of Atlantic bluefin tuna have confronted scientists with research challenges: research needs to be connected to current stock-assessment and management issues. We review recent studies on habitat, migrations and population structure, stressing the importance of electronic tagging results in the modification of our perception of bluefin tuna population dynamics and behaviour. Additionally, we question, from both scientific and management perspectives, the usefulness of the classical stock concept and suggest other approaches, such as Clark's contingent and metapopulation theories. Current biological information confirms that a substantial amount of uncertainty still exists in the understanding of reproduction and growth. In particular, we focus on intriguing issues such as the difference in age-at-maturity between West Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna. Our description of Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries places today's fishing patterns within the two millennium history of exploitation of this species: we discuss trap fisheries that existed between the 17th and the early 20th centuries; Atlantic fisheries during the 1950s and 1960s; and the consequences of the recent development of the sushi–sashimi market. Finally, we evaluate stock status and management issues since the early 1970s. While important uncertainties remain, when the fisheries history is confronted with evidence from biological and stock-assessment studies, results indicate that Atlantic bluefin tuna has been undergoing heavy overfishing for a decade. We conclude that the current exploitation of bluefin tuna has many biological and economic traits that have led several fish stocks to extreme depletion in the past.