Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks.
Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) are members of
the family Xiphiidae and are in the suborder
Scombroidei. They are one of the largest and
fastest predators in the Atlantic Ocean and
can reach a maximum size of 530 kg (1,165
lbs). They are distinguished by a large, flat,
smooth bill that grows from the upper jaw.
They are distributed widely in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and range from
Canada to Argentina on the western side, and from Norway to South Africa on the eastern side.
The management units for assessment purposes are a separate Mediterranean group, and North
and South Atlantic groups separated at 5°N. This stock separation is supported by recent genetic
analyses. However, the precise boundaries between stocks are uncertain, and mixing is expected
to be highest at the boundary in the tropical zone. Therefore, there is uncertainty as to whether
the management units used correspond exactly to the biological stock units. Hence, it is
important to have effective management measures throughout the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Swordfish feed on a wide variety of prey including groundfish, pelagic fish, deep-water fish, and
invertebrates. They are believed to feed throughout the water column. They are typically caught
on pelagic longlines at night when they feed in surface waters.
Swordfish spawn in the warm tropical and subtropical waters throughout the year, although
seasonality has been reported. They are found in the colder temperate waters during summer
months. Young swordfish grow very rapidly, reaching about 140 cm LJFL (lower-jaw fork
length) by age 3, but grow slowly thereafter. Females grow faster than males and reach a larger
maximum size. Swordfish are difficult to age, but 53% of females are considered mature by age
5, at a length of about 180 cm.
RECENT STOCK ASSESSMENT RESULTS
Stock assessments for Atlantic swordfish are conducted by the International Commission for the
Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The latest stock assessments in 2000 and 2001, show
signs that the North Atlantic stock may be rebuilding. However, ICCAT’s Standing Committee
for Research and Science (SCRS) cautioned that the North Atlantic recovery plan is very
sensitive to any overharvests. If recent overharvests by some countries continue, the stock
would likely not have a greater than 50% probability of reaching biomass levels that will support
Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). In 2000, Japan reported that it had seriously exceeded its
North Atlantic swordfish quota for the last few years despite some actions taken to address this
compliance problem. Because of concerns for the integrity of the 10 year swordfish rebuilding
program adopted by ICCAT in 1999 and given the recent underharvest by the United States of its
North Atlantic swordfish quota, the United States, with the full support of the U.S. longline
industry, agreed to assist Japan in addressing its swordfish overharvest. Specifically, a measure
was adopted that, among other things, will allow Japan access to 400 mt of unused U.S. quota for
2001 only. ICCAT also continued its efforts to control illegal, unregulated and unreported
fishing activities, with an agreement to develop a statistical document program for swordfish.
This new program will monitor harvest and trade, and assist in the collection of data. Together,
these steps are designed to ensure that total catches do not exceed the TAC established by the
1999 rebuilding program.
Relative to the South Atlantic, the SCRS expressed concern with a pattern of high catches and
declining catch per unit effort trends in some of the bycatch fisheries used in 1999 as indicators
of swordfish abundance. With the total allowable catch of 14,620 mt that was adopted for 2001,
there is a greater than 50% chance of biomass declining to levels slightly below the level that
would support MSY. Moreover, unlike past years, no member specific quotas were agreed for
this fishery. The SCRS recommended that future catch levels should remain at the 1998 level
(i.e., 13,500 mt) in order to keep the stock at about the biomass level that would support MSY.
More about the Swordfish species
Swordfish - the Seafood
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