Swordfish

Xiphias gladius

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Harpoon
Capture area — Pacific, Eastern Central (FAO 77) and South East (FAO 87)
Stock area — North East Pacific
Stock detail

All Areas


Picture of Swordfish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

A stock assessment was last carried out in 2014. A new assessment was expected in 2018, but this hasn’t been undertaken. The 2014 assessment indicated that there was a 55% probability that the stock was experiencing overfishing in 2012 (F at 1.1FMSY proxy), but there was a less than 1% probability that the stock was overfished (Spawning Biomass, SB, at 1.87SBMSY). The average yield at the time of roughly 10,000 t in those years, was almost two times higher than the estimated MSY, and is not likely to be sustainable in the long term. Projections for the EPO stock show that if then recent high catch levels (9,700 t) continued, exploitable biomass would decrease and there would be a moderate risk (50%) of overfishing in 2016 but a less than 1 % chance of the stock becoming overfished. As catches were nearly twice the estimated MSY, management measures to limit catches were advised, but this has yet to happen. IATTC has no specific management measures in place for swordfish. WCPFC requires countries to limit number vessels fishing for swordfish and the amount of swordfish caught to 2000-2006 levels; this applies to areas south of 20degrees S only. Management measures that apply to directed tuna fisheries, in particular albacore and bigeye, are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks. Small quantities of swordfish are taken in small harpoon fisheries. Harpooning, whilst labour intensive, is a very selective method of fishing with minimal impact on the marine ecosystem.

Commercial buyers should establish what measures the flag state and fleet relating to their source is taking to improve the management of this fishery. Large buyers should consider supporting such improvements.

Biology

Swordfish is the only member of the family Xiphiidae. It is a highly migratory species, moving towards temperate or cold waters in summer to feed and returning to warmer waters to spawn. They are apex predators that feed opportunistically. Squids and fishes are major prey items. In the Atlantic, spawning takes place in spring in the southern Sargasso Sea. In the Pacific, spawning occurs during spring and summer, and in the Mediterranean between June-August. Usually solitary, it forms large schools during spawning. A fast growing fish, swordfish begin to mature at two years of age, when they are about 150 to 170 cm in length, and by age four all are mature. They can attain a maximum size of 4.5m and a weight of 650kg. Swordfish tolerate temperatures of about 5 to 27C, but their optimum range is about 18 to 22C, and larvae have been found only at temperatures exceeding 24C.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Stock Area

North East Pacific

Stock information

The swordfish stock in the northern East Pacific Ocean is managed by both the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and assessed by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC). A stock assessment was last carried out in 2014 and indicated that there was a 55% probability that the stock was experiencing overfishing in 2012 (F at 1.1FMSY proxy), but there was a less than 1% probability that the stock was overfished (Spawning Biomass, SB, at 1.87SBMSY). Exploitable biomass had declined during 1969-1995 and then increased from 31,000 t in 1995 to over 60,000 t in 2010, generally remaining above BMSY (31,170 t). Harvest rates were initially low, have had a long-term increasing trend, and overfishing may have occurred from 2010 to 2012. The average yield of roughly 10,000 t in those years, or almost two times higher than the estimated MSY (5,490t), is not likely to be sustainable in the long term. Projections for the EPO stock show that if recent high catch levels (9,700 t) persist, exploitable biomass will decrease and there will be a moderate risk (50%) of overfishing in 2016 but a less than 1 % chance of the stock becoming overfished.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

As with tuna, individual swordfish stocks range across and are accessed by numerous coastal states, making harmonised and effective management of these individual stocks very difficult. As a result, intergovernmental Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) have been established. There are five main tuna RFMOs worldwide and it is their responsibility to carry out data collection, scientific monitoring and management of these fisheries, including swordfish. Whilst the RFMOs, in this case the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) jointly with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), are responsible for the development of management and conservation measures, the degree to which they are implemented, monitored and enforced still varies significantly between coastal states so it is important to buy tuna and swordfish that has been caught in fisheries that are well regulated by their flag state.

The main countries reporting swordfish catches in this region are: Japan, Spain, China, Taiwan and Korea with lesser amounts taken by Belize, Mexico, Chile, French Polynesia, Peru, Vanuatu, and the United States. As recent catches are nearly twice the estimated MSY, management measures to limit catches should be considered to ensure the sustainability of the stock in the long-term; this has yet to happen.

IATTC has no specific management measures in place for swordfish. WCPFC is looking to establish harvest strategies for key fisheries and stocks but has not yet completed this work. There is no Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set for this stock. WCPFC requires countries to limit the number of vessels fishing for swordfish in the south of 20 degrees South to the number in any one year between the period 2000-2005. In addition, they must limit the amount of swordfish caught south of 20 degrees South to the amount caught in any one year during the period 2000 -2006, and must not shift their fishing effort for swordfish to the area north of 20 degrees South to compensate. As well as maintaining these current restrictions for the area south of 20 degrees South, the scientific committee recommends management measures are developed for the area between the equator and 20 degrees South, from where half the total catches come, which contribute substantially to fishing mortality and spawning biomass depletion levels. Management measures that apply to directed tuna fisheries, in particular albacore and bigeye, are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks. Both the IATTC and WCPFC have the following in place:
5% observer coverage is required on longliners greater than 20m, although this is considered to be too low for accurate data: a minimum of 20% coverage is recommended. In addition, data recorded by IATTC longliners is considered inadequate for scientific purposes and minimum data standards need to be identified and introduced.
To help address IUU: an IUU Vessel List is maintained as well as a register of authorised fishing vessels; transhipments at sea for most vessels are prohibited (some exemptions apply) and most other transhipments must be documented and observed as part of the regional observer programme.
Countries are required to report annually on monitoring, control and compliance of management measures.
The IATTC and WCPFC endeavour to work together to promote compatibility between their respective conservation and management measures across the Pacific.
In 2017, WCPFC introduced a Compliance Monitoring Scheme to assess and improve compliance with obligations, and penalise non-compliance.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

In the northern East Pacific Ocean, swordfish are mostly caught in mixed species longline fisheries. The largest catches have been taken by Japan for more than five decades, yet since the 90s, Spain, Korea, Taiwan and China have significantly increased their catches. These five countries are now responsible for 90% of the total catch which has recently peaked at 9,700t.

Harpooning, whilst labour intensive, is a very selective method of fishing with minimal impact on the marine ecosystem. The scientific committee recommends that experiments be conducted on mitigating bycatches of sharks, especially in longline fisheries, and on the survival of sharks and mobulid rays captured by all gear types, with priority given to those gears with significant catches.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Anchovy, anchovies
Arctic char
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chinook, King Salmon
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Coho , Silver, White
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Sprat, whitebait
Swordfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, bigeye
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin

References

IATTC, 2018. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission: Active IATTC and AIDCP Resolutions and Recommendations. Available at https://www.iattc.org/ResolutionsActiveENG.htm [Accessed on 05.12.2018].

IATTC, 2018. Staff recommendations for management and data collection. Document SAC-09-15 Rev 2 for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee, Ninth Meeting, 14-18 May 2018, La Jolla, California, USA, 15 pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2018/SAC-09/9th-Meeting-Scientific-Advisory-Committee.htm [Accessed on 05.12.2018].

IATTC, 2018. Tunas, Billfishes and Other Pelagic Species in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2017. Document IATTC-93-01 for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission 93rd meeting, 24 and 27-30 August 2018, San Diego, California. 115 pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2018/IATTC-93/IATTC-AIDCP-Annual-Meetings-AUG2018ENG.htm [accessed on 05.12.2018].

ISC, 2017. Report of the Billfish Working Group Workshop for the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species In the North Pacific Ocean, 1-7 June 2017, Keelung, Taiwan. 20pp. Available at http://isc.fra.go.jp/reports/bill/bill_2017_1.html [Accessed on 24.11.2017].

ISC, 2018. Report of the eighteenth meeting of the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, Plenary Session, 11-16 July 2018, Yeosu, Republic of Korea. 93pp. http://isc.fra.go.jp/reports/isc/isc18_reports.html [Accessed on 05.12.2018].

WCPFC, 2018. Conservation and Management Measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/conservation-and-management-measures [Accessed on 06.12.2018].