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
Updated: December 2019
Swordfish in the South West Pacific Ocean (SWPO) are assessed and managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The last stock assessment was carried out in 2017 using data up to 2015. 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, for the area south of 20 degrees South, countries must limit the number of vessels fishing for swordfish to 2000-2005 levels, limit catches to 2000-2006 levels. They must not shift their fishing effort for swordfish to the area north of 20 degrees south as a result of this measure, although this is not well enforced. 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.
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.
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.
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. South of 20 degrees South, countries are required to limit catches and the number of vessels fishing for swordfish to 2000-2005 levels. Countries should not shift fishing effort to the area north of 20 degrees South, but there are no catch or effort restrictions for this area, which is responsible for half the total catches and contributes substantially to fishing mortality and spawning biomass depletion levels. Furthermore, if countries were to fish their full allowance south of 20 degrees S, the risk of overfishing would substantially increase (at current catch levels, the probability is 32%). The movement and aggregation behaviours of swordfish make it particularly vulnerable to local depletion. There may also be connectivity between the south western population and south eastern population. The south eastern population has no management and no stock assessment since 2011. There is no overall Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set. A proposal to address these issues is to be considered in 2020. 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.
Management measures that apply to directed tuna fisheries are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks.
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.
Criterion score: Critical fail 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.
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
Herring or sild
Horse Mackerel, Scad
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
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WCPFC, 2019. Draft Summary Report of the Fifteenth Regular Session of the Northern Committee of the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, 3 - 6 September 2019, Oregon, USA. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/system/files/0_NC15%20Summary%20Report%20-%20Distributed%20on%2011Sep2019%20%28Posted%20on%2001Nov2019%29.docx [Accessed on 29.11.2019].
WCPFC, 2019. Strengthening the management of south pacific broadbill swordfish (Xiphias Gladius). Document WCPFC16-2019-DP19 submitted by Australia to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Sixteenth Regular Session, 5 - 11 December 2019, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/node/44671 [Accessed on 05.12.2019].
WCPFC, 2019. Conservation and Management Measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. Available at https://www.wcpfc.int/conservation-and-management-measures [Accessed on 05.12.2019].