NOAA 2002-131
Contact: Susan Buchanan
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Just four years into a 10-year recovery program for North Atlantic swordfish, the species is almost rebuilt, according to a preliminary stock assessment conducted last month in Madrid, Spain, for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The current assessment shows that growth in the biomass has surpassed expectation, increasing from a level of 65 percent of its healthy stock size to 94 percent in just four years.

On Oct. 14, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), an agency of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will host a meeting of the ICCAT Advisory Committee to review these preliminary stock assessment findings. The committee will also develop recommendations for ICCAT on whether current international fishing quotas should change.

“This is good news for those who care about the long-term health of North Atlantic Swordfish,” said Bill Hogarth, director of NOAA Fisheries. “Commercial and recreational fishermen in the United States supported the strong management actions ICCAT implemented four years ago, and once the stock is fully rebuilt to the ICCAT goal, we will push for a quota that rewards them for their sacrifices.”

In 1999, ICCAT introduced the 10-year recovery plan to rebuild the stock of North Atlantic swordfish. Swordfish are migratory fish that swim long distances and are fished by many nations. As a member of ICCAT, the United States recognizes the importance of international cooperation in conserving swordfish. The United States delegation, including the commercial and recreational industries and environmental groups, united in a strong push to lead rebuilding efforts through ICCAT.

When the rebuilding program was first implemented, the swordfish biomass level had been reduced to 65 percent of its healthy stock size. The program includes an international fishing quota of 10,400 metric tons, divided among all nations fishing on the stock, including the United States, Canada, European Community, Japan and several minor harvesters. The U.S. allowable catch of the international quota is 5 million pounds per year, or about 30 percent of the quota.

In the 1970s, swordfish was a popular target of commercial and recreational fishermen in the United States, and also was heavily harvested by fleets of numerous other fishing nations. Swordfish began to decline in the 1980s due to heavy fishing pressure by commercial fleets. Concern for the resource prompted U.S. fishermen and other constituents to support cuts in swordfish catch levels. Due to decreased availability, anglers stopped fishing for swordfish. The improved condition of swordfish means that the sacrifices of the U.S. industry are paying off. For anglers, this is demonstrated in the resurgence in the past year of recreational swordfish tournaments in Florida.

The U.S. regulates the commercial swordfish catch by limiting the number of commercial fishermen targeting the stock, implementing seasonal and area closures to protect undersized fish, minimum size restrictions, and by quota limitations. The recreational catch is managed based on size restrictions.

The 2001 international landings of North Atlantic swordfish totaled 9,800 metric tons, a decrease in landings of 52 percent since the 1987 peak of 20,236 metric tons. The next swordfish assessment will occur in 2004.

Swordfish grow rapidly, and females start reproducing by age five. They spawn in warm, tropical and subtropical waters throughout the year. The large fish feed on a variety of prey, including groundfish, pelagics, deep-water fish and invertebrates. They are typically caught on pelagic longlines at night. They are found in the colder northern waters during the summer months, and all year in the subtropical and tropical areas.

NOAA Fisheries is considering regulations to better calculate the amount of swordfish that recreational fishers harvest. Proposed regulations include a recreational permit requirement to harvest swordfish, a dockside call-in reporting requirement for recreational harvests, and a recreational retention limit, also called a bag limit. NOAA Fisheries conducted public hearings earlier this year to gather input on these proposals, and regulations are expected to be final within the month.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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