NOAA 99-R114
Contact: Gordon Helm

Action will help save dwindling Atlantic stocks

The Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service has made final regulations that ban the sale and import of undersized North Atlantic swordfish, in a move designed to save dwindling stocks of the species, the Department announced today.

The new rules, together with a proposed migratory species management plan, fulfill a key element in President Clinton's 1998 Year of the Ocean initiative to promote sustainable use of marine fisheries and other ocean resources.

"The Commerce Department has followed through with a key fishery management element of President Clinton's plan for the ocean environment," said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley. "As a leading importer of swordfish, the United States is also a world leader in conserving this and other highly migratory marine resources that travel beyond our waters."

The Fisheries Service will implement this new ban beginning June 17, 1999, to allow time to educate importers, exporters, and government officials of exporting nations about the news reporting requirements. This outreach program will include sending letters to the embassies of all nations that export swordfish to the United States and sending letters to all importers of swordfish in the United States that explain the new rules. The Fisheries Service will also staff an exhibit at the International Boston Seafood Show and will present a seminar there to educate affected importers and exporters.

The regulations implement a 1995 recommendation of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) that controls the harvest of undersized Atlantic swordfish. The proposed species management plan is under public review.

The new rules ban imports of Atlantic swordfish less than 33 pounds, dressed weight (without head, fins, entrails), and require seafood importers to obtain permits that allow them to buy and sell swordfish. Under the permit system, dealers are required to report imports of swordfish from any source, and comply with a certificate of eligibility program for all imports. Under the program, a certificate of eligibility is required for every imported swordfish, identifying the shipment by ocean of origin, flag of fishing vessel and, for Atlantic swordfish pieces, certification that they were taken from fish larger than the minimum size.

Fishing industry representatives and conservationists had both requested that federal managers adopt additional measures to better control the harvest of undersized swordfish. In addition, U.S. negotiators at two recent international marine resource management meetings were successful in promoting significant improvements in international fishery management concerns, which included several highly migratory species such as tunas and sharks, bycatch of sea birds, and fishing fleet overcapacity.

"This ban, along with our progress in other international and domestic management areas, demonstrates the commitment of this administration and U.S. fishermen to rebuild and protect our valuable natural resources," said Terry Garcia, Commerce assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere and deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the management of ocean resources through NOAA's Fisheries Service.

Other regulatory improvements include:

  • Ensuring that imports of Atlantic swordfish to the United States will meet minimum size requirements for the sale of Atlantic swordfish in the United States.

  • Data collected through the use of certificates of eligibility will provide managers with information showing the source and size of imported swordfish caught by foreign flagged vessels. As a major importer and consumer of Atlantic swordfish, the United States is expected to play a significant role in monitoring total mortality through fully documenting these imports and reporting to ICCAT.

  • Import data will be used to estimate total fishing mortality.

  • North Atlantic swordfish stocks are considered overfished, with stocks estimated at 58 percent of the level needed for the largest annual yield that could be continuously sustained. South Atlantic and Pacific swordfish stocks are considered fully utilized. Atlantic swordfish are managed internationally through the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, consisting of 22 member nations. More than 30 countries harvest North Atlantic swordfish.

The domestic rebuilding plan, when finalized, will likely be the focus of international discussion at the 1999 ICCAT meeting.

During his speech at the National Oceans Conference in Monterey, Calif., on June 12, 1998, President Clinton said, "We must do more to restore precious marine resources." The president called on NOAA to create sustainable fisheries, rebuild fish stocks within 10 years, work with industry to develop new technologies to reduce bycatch, protect essential fish habitats, and ban the sale and import of undersized Atlantic swordfish.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is the NOAA agency responsible for managing and conserving marine resources in federal waters (from state waters out to 200 miles from shore). NOAA Fisheries scientists and managers study marine resource populations, monitor and protect many marine species under the Endangered Species Act, (including whales, salmon and sea turtles) and other marine animals through the Marine Mammal Protection Act.