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Swordfish

Xiphias gladius

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Longline
Capture area - South Atlantic (FAO 41,31,34,47)
Stock area - South Atlantic
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 has a low resilience to fishing and is subject to high fishing pressure. The 2013 South Atlantic stock assessment had considerable uncertainty and so the status of the fishery with respect to Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) reference points could not be established. Despite this the scientific committee were of the opinion that the stock is not overfished nor being subject to overfishing. Bycatch of vulnerable species such as birds, sharks and turtles is of concern in these pelagic longline fisheries. Buy swordfish from fisheries that are well regulated by their flag state to ensure that bycatch mitigation devices are being employed and monitored. There are a number of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified swordfish fisheries in the Atlantic which represent the best option.

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

Stock area
South Atlantic

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Stock information
Swordfish fisheries in the Atlantic are assessed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Provisional catches for 2012 of 10,180 t are about 20% down from the previous five year average of 12,980t and also under the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 15,000t. The latest stock assessment was carried out in September 2013 and considerable uncertainty has been noted by the scientific committee. The models used in the assessment displayed conflicting values for various analyses, and as a result, Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) has not been estimated. The committee stress the need for improved scientific information yet have formed the opinion that the stock is unlikely to be overfished nor being subject to overfishing.

The ICCAT scientific committee have expressed concern over unreported discarding that has increased in recent years as a result of national regulations in some countries. The subsequent loss of scientific data may seriously limit future assessments.

Management

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. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is the RFMO that is responsible for the development of management and conservation measures for Atlantic Ocean tuna and tuna like species here, however the degree to which they are implemented, monitored and enforced still varies significantly between the various coastal states. For this reason, it is important to choose tuna that has been caught by vessels that are well regulated by their flag state. There are a number of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainable swordfish fisheries in Canada and the US.

ICCAT have opted to continue the previous TAC of 15,000t for the next three years as recommended by the scientific committee. It is noted though that the scientific committee did not have sufficient confidence in the assessment results to change the previous recommendation to limit catches to no more than 15,000 t.

Two minimum swordfish size options are applied to the entire Atlantic. These are 125 cm Lower Jaw to Fork Length (LJFL) (or 25Kg) with a 15% tolerance, or 119 cm LJFL (or 15kg) with zero tolerance and evaluation of the discards.

The development of multiannual management and conservation program for coastal states whose vessels operate in the bigeye and yellowfin fisheries;

ICCAT have specified a limit on the number of vessels over 20m in length operating in yellowfin or bigeye fisheries and require that a register of authorised vessels of this nature be maintained;

A prohibition to retain at risk shark species including: bigeye thresher, oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and silky sharks. This has been in place for over three years, yet ICCAT has not received records of compliance from the majority of member states.

A combination of at least two bird mitigation measures are required to be used for pelagic longline fisheries, yet monitoring and data relating to this and other vulnerable bycatch species is deficient.

ICCAT have developed an IUU vessel register and a register of vessels authorised to undertake transhipments at sea. Additionally, transhipments at sea can only take place if an ICCAT Observer is onboard the receiving vessel.

Capture information

Swordfish in the South Atlantic is taken primarily by surface longliners from (in order): Spain, Brazil, Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Belize, Portugal and Senegal, but is captured in smaller quantities by various other gears in subsistence fisheries, such as gill nets off the coast of Africa. Longlining is a more fuel efficient method of fishing, but encounters bycatch of large shark and other non-target species, including sea turtles and seabirds, depending on area and fishing activity. 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. ICATT recommend that two of these need to be employed, yet monitoring and enforcement is deficient. The bycatch of large sharks is of particular concern in the Atlantic.

Read more about capture methods


References
ICCAT, 2013. Report of the standing committee on research and statistics. Madrid, Spain, 30 Sept to 4 Oct, 2013. Available at http://www.iccat.int/Documents/Meetings/Docs/2013-SCRS-REP_ENG.pdf [Last accessed Dec 2013].
Collette, B. et al. 2011. Xiphias gladius. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. . [Accessed Nov 2013].
www.fishbase.org [Accessed Nov 2012].

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