Swordfish

Xiphias gladius

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — Pacific, South West (FAO 81) and Central (FAO 71,77)
Stock area — South West Pacific
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Swordfish

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

A new stock assessment was carried out in 2017 using data up to 2015 and is more certain than the 2013 assessment. It is highly likely that the stock is not in an overfished condition (Spawning Biomass, SB2012-2015 at 1.58SBMSY) and not experiencing overfishing, (Fishing mortality, F, at 0.86 FMSY). There is no Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set for this stock yet most participating countries have set national TACs for their components. Following scientific advice, countries must now limit the number of vessels fishing for swordfish 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 as a result of this measure, although management is needed to ensure this is complied with. Total catches have been relatively stable in recent years, but regional increases have been significant, especially in the WCPFC area north of 20 degrees south. Small quantities of swordfish are taken in artisanal gill or fixed net fisheries. These operations are associated with relatively high levels of bycatch of vulnerable species such as sharks and endangered turtles. Monitoring is deficient in these artisanal fisheries and attracts a critical fail and default red rating.

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, northern hemisphere 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. In the South-West Pacific Ocean however, age at maturity is much later at about 10years for females (1-2yr for males).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: Default red rating info

Stock Area

South West Pacific

Stock information

Swordfish in the South West Pacific Ocean (SWPO) are assessed and managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Historically, the majority of swordfish catches were bycatch from tuna-target fisheries (SWPO swordfish catches were around 2,500 t in the 1970s). SWPO swordfish biomass declined steeply from 1997 to 2010 and then stabilised, likely owing to increases in fishing effort during that period. Catches increased from to 5,000 in the 90s to 10,000 t in the early 2000s as targeted fisheries developed. The introduction of the Spanish longline fleet in 2004 significantly increased catches to around 15,000 t, and then to more than 20,000 t over the period 2011-2015. Total catches have been relatively stable in recent years, but regional increases have been significant, especially in the WCPFC area north of 20 degrees south. The provisional 2017 catch estimate (21,966t) declined from the record 2015 catch (23,889t), mainly due to a reduction in distant-water Asian fleet catches.

A new stock assessment was carried out in 2017 using data up to 2015 and is more certain than the 2013 assessment. Given that WCPFC has yet to formally agree a limit reference point for SWP swordfish, there are two methods for reporting stock status. It is highly likely that the stock is not in an overfished condition (0% probability), with the latest Spawning Biomass (SB) at more than 20% of unfished levels and the ratio of recent SB (2012-2015) to SBMSY at 1.58. It appears that the stock is not experiencing overfishing (32% probability of overfishing), with fishing mortality, F, at 0.86 FMSY.

Management

Criterion score: Default red rating 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), 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 dominant countries reporting swordfish catches in the region are Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China and Spain.

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 yet most participating countries have set national TACs for their components. The WCPFC scientific committee have recommended that due to uncertainty in the assessment, there should be no increase in fishing mortality over current (2007 to 2010) levels. 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 are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks yet the scientific committee has also supported reviewing the existing management measures for swordfish to prevent further increasing catches in this area.
To help address IUU, the WCPFC maintains an IUU Vessel List; and all transhipments at sea are to be documented and 100% observed as part of the regional observer programme.
The WCPFC requires 5% observer coverage for longline vessels over 20m.
In 2017, WCPFC introduced a Compliance Monitoring Scheme to assess and improve compliance with obligations, and penalise non-compliance.

Capture Information

Criterion score: Default red rating info

In the South-West Pacific Ocean, swordfish are mostly caught in mixed species longline fisheries off the coast of Australia and New Zealand and in the central South Pacific near the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Much smaller quantities of swordfish are taken in artisanal gill or fixed net fisheries. Gillnets used for catching tuna and tuna like species can be 7 km and are known for extremely high bycatch including endangered marine turtles, whales, dolphins and sharks. WCPFC bans the use of gillnets over 2.5km long, but monitoring is poor.

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, Chinook, King Salmon
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Coho , Silver, White
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Swordfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, bigeye
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin

References

Brouwer, S., Pilling, G., Williams, P., WCPFC Secretariat , 2017. Trends in the South Pacific albacore longline and troll fisheries, Document WCPFC-SC13-2017/SA-WP-08 for the Thirteenth Regular Session of the Scientific Committee of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, 9 - 17 August 2017, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. 70 pp. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/meetings/sc13 [Accessed on 27.11.2017].

Takeuchi, Y., Pilling, G., Hampton, J., 2017. Stock assessment of swordfish (Xiphias gladius) in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, Document WCPFC-SC13-2017/SA-WP-13 for the Thirteenth Regular Session of the Scientific Committee of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, 9 - 17 August 2017, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. 70 pp. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/meetings/sc13 [Accessed on 27.11.2017].

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].

WCPFC, 2018. Summary Report of the Fourteenth Regular Session of the Scientific Committee of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, 8-16 August 2018, Busan, Republic of Korea. 34 pp. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/meetings/14th-regular-session-scientific-committee [Accessed on 06.12.2018].