Swordfish

Xiphias gladius

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Harpoon
Capture area — Pacific: North East (FAO 67), Eastern Central (FAO 77), South East (FAO 87)
Stock area — North East Pacific
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Swordfish

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2019 

The swordfish stock in the northern East Pacific Ocean is managed primarily by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), but there is no agreement over who should assess it. As such, no new stock assessments are currently planned and the data limited scoring is applied to this stock. The stock does not currently appear to be overfished or subject to overfishing. IATTC has no specific management measures in place for swordfish, e.g. no Total Allowable Catch (TAC), although management measures that apply to directed tuna fisheries, in particular albacore and bigeye, are expected to also benefit swordfish. 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. Longlining, on the other hand, accounts for the majority of catches. It targets larger, mature fish but is often associated with the bycatch of vulnerable species such as seabirds, turtles and sharks. IATTC requires a number of mitigation measures and countries must develop national plans of action to address the bycatch of these species, but measures are often not following best practice or are not supported by sufficient data and research. Increasing observer coverage to at least 20% would improve the situation, but only 5% is required. Of greatest concern is the impact on Eastern Pacific leatherback turtles, which have seen a dramatic decline in the past 20 years driven by bycatch by longliners and gillnetters.

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: 0.25 info

Stock Area

North East Pacific

Stock information

The swordfish stock in the northern East Pacific Ocean is managed primarily by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). There currently appears to be no agreement, however, over who should assess the stock - either the IATTC or the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like species in the North Pacific (ISC). As such, no new stock assessments are currently planned and the data limited scoring is applied to this stock. Swordfish have a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

A stock assessment was last carried out in 2014 and indicated that the stock was experiencing slight overfishing in 2012 but was not overfished. In 2018, catches per unit effort (CPUE) did not indicate declining abundance, and therefore it appears that the stock is not in an overfished state. Annual longline fishing effort, measured in numbers of hooks set, increased from 23.7 million in 2007 to 43.9 million in 2011, but this is relatively low compared to the 2001-2003 average of 70.4 million hooks. Retained catches over the past 20 years average around 3,000 tonnes. At the current level of fishing effort, IATTC considers there to be a negligible risk of the spawning biomass decreasing to less than 40% of its unfished level and therefore it would appear that the stock is not currently subject to overfishing.

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 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.

IATTC has no specific management measures in place for swordfish. There is no Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set for this stock. Management measures that apply to directed tuna fisheries, in particular albacore and bigeye, are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks. 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 the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission endeavour to work together to promote compatibility between their respective conservation and management measures across the Pacific.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0 info

In the northern Eastern 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.

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
Mackerel
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Swordfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin

References

ACAP, 2019. ACAP Review and Best Practice Advice for Reducing the Impact of Pelagic Longline Fisheries on Seabirds, Reviewed at the Eleventh Meeting of the Advisory Committee of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, 13 - 17 May 2019, Florianopolis, Brazil. Available at https://www.acap.aq/en/bycatch-mitigation/mitigation-advice/3498-acap-2019-review-and-best-practice-advice-for-reducing-the-impact-of-pelagic-longline-fisheries-on-seabirds/file [Accessed on 29.11.2019].

Dias, M. P., Martin. R., Pearmain, E., J., Burfield, I. J., Small, C., Phillips, R. A., Yates, O., Lascelles, B., Garcia Borboroglu, P. and Croxall, J. P., 2019. Threats to seabirds: A global assessment. Biol. Cons. 237, pp 525-537. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.06.033 [Accessed on 29.11.2019].

Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Xiphias gladius, Swordfish. Available at: https://www.fishbase.de/summary/Xiphias-gladius.html [Accessed on 02.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission: Active IATTC and AIDCP Resolutions and Recommendations. Available at https://www.iattc.org/ResolutionsActiveENG.htm [Accessed on 02.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. Report on the tuna fishery, stocks, and ecosystem in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2018, Document IATTC-94-01 presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission 94th Meeting, 22-26 July 2019, Bilbao, Spain. 125pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/IATTC-94/Docs/_English/IATTC-94-01_The%20tuna%20fishery,%20stocks,%20and%20ecosystem%20in%20the%20Eastern%20Pacific%20Ocean%20in%202018.pdf [Accessed on 02.12.2019].

IATTC, 2019. The tuna fishery in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2018 (revised). Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California (USA). 49pp. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/Docs/_English/SAC-10-03-REV-14-May-19_The%20tuna%20fishery%20in%20the%20EPO%20in%202018.pdf [Accessed on 03.12.2019].

ISC, 2019. Report of the Nineteenth Meeting of the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, 11-15 July 2019, Taipei City, Taiwan. Available at http://isc.fra.go.jp/pdf/ISC19/ISC19_PLENARY_Report_FINAL.pdf [Accessed on 29.11.2019].

ISSF, 2019. Status of the world fisheries for tuna. Oct. 2019. ISSF Technical Report 2019-12. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, D.C., USA. Available at https://iss-foundation.org/knowledge-tools/technical-and-meeting-reports/download-info/issf-2019-12-status-of-the-world-fisheries-for-tuna-october-2019/ [Accessed on 26.11.2019].

Wallace, B., 2019. A call for collaboration between IAC and IATTC to save Eastern Pacific leatherbacks. Presented to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Scientific Advisory Committee Tenth Meeting, 13-17 May 2019, San Diego, California, USA. Available at https://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2019/SAC-10/BYC-09/Presentations/BYC-09-PRES_A%20call%20for%20collaboration%20between%20IAC%20and%20IATTC%20to%20save%20Eastern%20Pacific%20leatherbacks.pdf [Accessed on 02.12.2019].