Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Longline
Capture area - Eastern Pacific - EPO (FAO 77,81,87)
Stock area - South East Pacific
Stock detail - All Areas
Fish type - Oily fish
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. Various measures are available and required to be used to reduce bycatch in the longline fisheries yet monitoring is deficient and their effectiveness is yet to be evaluated. There are few management measures that apply specifically to the gill net fisheries and reporting is largely deficient. Harpooning is very selective capture method and is a more sustainable option yet accounts for a small proportion of the catch.
Buy swordfish from fisheries that are well regulated by their flag state to ensure that bycatch mitigation devices are being employed and monitored. Commercial buyers in particular should establish what measures the flag state 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.
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.
South East Pacific
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 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). Since 2010 though, catches have increased towards the estimated MSY of 25,000 t with the 2011 and 2012 catches at approximately 24,000t. It is not clear whether this is due to increased abundance of swordfish or increased effort directed toward that species.
A new stock assessment is needed to gain a better understanding of current stock status.
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. In this case, it is shared between the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). 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.
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.
The IATTC and WCPFC requires 5% observer coverage on longliners greater than 20m.
To help address IUU, the IATTC & WCPFC maintain 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.
In the South-east Pacific Ocean, swordfish are mostly caught in mixed species longline fisheries by Chilean, Japanese and Spanish fleets. Pelagic longlining for tuna and billfish is associated the bycatch of vulnerable sharks, seabirds and marine turtles. To address this, both the IATTC and the WCPFC require: that longliners north of 30degrees north and over 20m in length use at least two prescribed seabird mitigation measures (e.g. 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 with a prohibition to land oceanic whitetip; and countries to develop national plans of action to address the bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds. The WCPFC also prohibits the landing of silky and has recently prohibited the use of wire leaders and lines running directly off the longline floats or drop lines - known as shark lines. For fisheries specifically targeting sharks, WCPFC countries are also required to develop management plans in 2015, demonstrating how they intend to avoid or reduce catches of highly depleted shark species.
Monitoring and reporting of interactions with vulnerable species is deficient in many fisheries however, and the effectiveness of these various measures has not been evaluated. The IATTC and WCPFC both require 5% observer coverage on longliners greater than 20m.
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.
Froese, R. and Pauly, D. Editors, 2015. FishBase. Available at www.fishbase.org [Accessed Dec 2015].
Sign up to get all the latest marine related news from MCS
The UK charity for the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife.