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Swordfish

Xiphias gladius

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Longline
Capture area - South East Pacific (FAO 77,81,87)
Stock area - South East Pacific
Stock detail - All Areas
Accreditation -
Fish type - Oily fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is not the most sustainable choice of fish to eat. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.


Sustainability overview

Swordfish in this region are both targeted for and landed as byproduct in directed tuna fisheries. To a lesser extent they are also taken in artisanal net and harpoon fisheries off the coast of South America. The last stock assessment, updated in 2011 indicated that stocks were in a healthy state and were being harvested sustainably. Bycatch of vulnerable species such as birds, sharks and turtles is of concern in both the pelagic longline fisheries and net fisheries. Buy swordfish from fisheries that are well regulated by their flag state to ensure that bycatch mitigation devices are being employed and monitored. Harpooning is very selective capture method and is a more sustainable option yet accounts for a small proportion of the catch.

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

Stock area
South East Pacific

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Stock information
The East Pacific swordfish stock is managed and assessed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). The most recent stock assessment was updated in 2011, and indicated that the stock was not experiencing overfishing and was not overfished. Results indicated that the 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 2010t. At the same time as this increase, the annual catch by all fisheries was maintained at an average 12,000t during the 10 year period ending in 2010. Spawning biomass was estimated to be at 50% above the carrying capacity, and substantially above the level which is expected to produce catch at the level of Maximum Sustainable Yield (1.45SBmsy). Catches have increased in the last few years towards the estimated MSY of 25,000 t with the 2011 catch at approximately 24,000t. It is not clear whether this is due to increased abundance of swordfish or increased effort directed toward that species.

Management

As for 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 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. The main countries reporting swordfish catches in this region are Chile, Japan and Spain. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) manages this fishery.

There is no Total Allowable Catch (TAC) set for this stock. Management measures that apply to directed tuna fisheries are expected to also benefit swordfish stocks.

There is a requirement for longliners over 20m in length to use at least 2 prescribed seabird mitigation measures (eg tori line, dyed bait, weighted branch line, night setting, underwater setting chute); for vessels to carry line cutters and de-hookers to promptly release turtles or to foster to recovery any sick or comatose turtles captured; permissible sharks are to be fully utilized and no more than 5% of fins to total shark weight can be retained. Monitoring of these measures is generally deficient although from January 2013, there has been 5% observer coverage on longliners greater than 20m.

To help address IUU, the IATTC maintains an IUU Vessel List; maintains a register of authorised fishing vessels; and prohibits transhipments at sea for most vessels (Some exemptions apply) and requires most other transhipments to be documented and observed as part of the regional observer programme.

Capture information

In the southern East Pacific Ocean, swordfish are mostly caught in mixed species longline fisheries by Chilean, Japanese and Spanish fleets. Longlining is a rather fuel efficient method of fishing yet is associated with high levels of bycatch. Bycaught species include shark, birds, other billfish and endangered marine turtles. There are a range of mitigation measures that can be employed such as tori lines, weighted baits, circle hooks, subsurface deployment and night deployment of gear, yet monitoring of their use and effectiveness is deficient.

Read more about capture methods


References
IATTC, 2011. Status of swordfish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2010 and outlook for the future. Scientific Advisory Committee 2nd Meeting. 9-12 May, 2011 La Jolla, California (USA). Available at http://www.iattc.org/Meetings/Meetings2011/May-SAC-Shark/PDFfiles/SAC-02-09-SWO-assessment-2010.pdf [Accessed Jan 2013].
IATTC, 2013. Fishery status report number 11. Tunas and billfishes in the Eastern Pacific Ocean 2012. La Jolla, California (USA). 2013. Available at http://www.iattc.org/PDFFiles2/FisheryStatusReports/Fishery-Status-Report-11ENG.pdf [Last Accessed Jan 2014].
IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. . [Accessed December 2012].
www.fishbase.org [Accessed Nov 2012].

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