Swordfish

Xiphias gladius

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Longline
Capture area — Pacific, South (FAO 81,87) and Eastern Central (FAO 77)
Stock area — South East Pacific
Stock detail — All Areas
Picture of Swordfish

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The most recent stock assessment for south-east Pacific swordfish used data from 2011. It indicated that the stock was not experiencing overfishing and was not overfished (Spawning biomass, SB, at 1.45SBmsy). However, catches have increased significantly from around 2,000 t in 1985 to peak at 29,293 t in 2016, and recent catches (27,098t on average over the past 5 years) exceed the estimated MSY (25,000 t). Longline effort has steadily increased from 111 million hooks in 2008 to 174 million hooks in 2016 and was responsible for over three quarters of the catch in 2017. It is not clear whether the increase in catches is due to increased abundance of swordfish or increased effort directed toward that species. While there is no indication of a significant impact of fishing on this stock, a new stock assessment is needed to gain a better understanding of current stock status. The IATTC and WCPFC share management of the stock. There are no specific IATTC management measures for swordfish. In the WCPFC the main management measure in place is a requirement for 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 are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks. Longline fisheries have a disproportionately larger impact on vulnerable bycatch species, in particular sharks, turtles and seabirds. Whilst some management & mitigation measures are in place, their effectiveness has not been evaluated and data collection needs to be improved to assess the status bycatch species. Large longliners have 5% observer coverage, but it is recommended this should increase to 20%.

Commercial buyers in particular should establish what measures the flag state and or fleet is taking to improve deficiencies in reporting interactions with vulnerable species and specify the need for ongoing and demonstrable improvements. 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 South-East Pacific Ocean (SEPO), spawning takes place in summer months. Usually solitary, it forms large schools during spawning. A fast growing fish, swordfish in the SEPO mature at 2-3 years of age, when they 115-120cm (males) and 165-175cm (females).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: 0.75 info

Stock Area

South East Pacific

Stock information

The South-east Pacific swordfish stock is managed by both the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The most recent stock assessment uses data up to 2011, and indicated that the stock was not experiencing overfishing and was not overfished (Spawning biomass, SB, at 1.45SBmsy). Spawning biomass had decreased to a low of about 43,000 t in 1993 and had been increasing since, reaching about 135,000 t in 2010. Meanwhile, catches increased significantly from around 2,000 t in 1985 to peak at 29,293 t in 2016, and recent catches (27,098t on average over the past 5 years) exceed the estimated MSY (~25,000 t). Longline effort has steadily increased from 111 million hooks in 2008 to 174 million hooks in 2016. It is not clear whether the increase in catches is due to increased abundance of swordfish or increased effort directed toward that species.

There is no indication of a significant impact of fishing on this stock. However, given the high recent catches a new stock assessment is needed to gain a better understanding of current stock status.

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 Chile, Japan and Spain.

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. In the WCPFC area, south of 20 degrees South, there are limitations on vessel numbers fishing for swordfish (no more than the number in any one year between 2000 and 2005) and swordfish catches (no more than the amount caught in any one year between 2000 and 2006) and countries 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: 0.75 info

In the South-east Pacific Ocean, swordfish are mostly caught in mixed species longline fisheries by Chilean, Japanese and Spanish fleets. In recent years, Spain has dominated catches. Much smaller quantities are taken in artisanal harpoon and gill net fisheries off the coast of South America.

Longlining targets larger, mature fish yet is often associated with the bycatch of vulnerable species such as seabirds, turtles and sharks. To address this, both the IATTC and the WCPFC require a number of mitigation measures.
Seabirds: Longliners must use one or more seabird bycatch mitigation measures from a set list of options, depending on vessel size and fishing location, including weighted branch line, bird scaring lines, and night setting. However, recommended best practice is for those three measures to be applied simultaneously.
Turtles: vessels must carry line cutters and de-hookers to promptly release turtles or to foster to recovery any sick or comatose turtles captured. WCPFC also requires the use of circle hooks for shallow set gear for swordfish to reduce turtle capture, however a study in 2017 noted that less than 1% of Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) longline effort is subject to mitigation, even though approximately 20% of the WCPO longline effort consists of shallow sets. IATTC have noted that mortality rates of turtles due to longlining are possibly greater for those that set their lines at shallower depths at night for albacore and swordfish, although WCPFC notes that there are significantly more deep sets than shallow sets and a lower chance of live release from deep sets.
Sharks: permissible sharks are to be fully utilized and no more than 5% of fins to total shark weight can be retained; there is a prohibition to land oceanic whitetips and silky sharks (and mobula rays in IATTC area); and countries must develop national plans of action to address the bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds. Shark lines are prohibited. For fisheries specifically targeting sharks, countries are required to develop management plans, demonstrating how they intend to avoid or reduce catches of highly depleted shark species. For the IATTC, any shark (whether alive or dead) caught that is not retained must be promptly released unharmed, following safe release requirements. There are special measures to protect silky sharks, including a limit on bycatch of silky sharks to a maximum of 20% of the total catch by fishing trip in weight. In 2016, WCPFC adopted measures to improve recording of manta and mobula rays discarded and released, and to treat these species as key shark species for assessment and research. The scientific committee has noted that target and limit reference points have not yet been established for pelagic sharks by WCPFC.
Monitoring and reporting is deficient in many fisheries, and the effectiveness of these measures has not been evaluated. In 2016 IATTC introduced stricter monitoring and reporting of catches of shark species, but the scientific committee continues to advise that shark data collection is inadequate and must be improved. The scientific committee has also recommended stricter requirements for seabird mitigation techniques and proof of effectiveness before new techniques are introduced.
There is 100% observer coverage on large purse seiners in the EPO so the data coming from these fleets should be useful and of high quality. Only 5% observer coverage is required on longliners greater than 20m in length, although the scientific committee recommends 20% coverage and improved standards of data collection.

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

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2018. FishBase version (06/2018). Available at www.fishbase.org [Accessed on 10.12.2018].

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].

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].