Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

Swordfish - Northeastern Pacific
Marine Resource  Fact Sheet
Data Quality Assurance fact sheets 2019
Swordfish - Northeastern Pacific
Fact Sheet Citation  
Owned byInter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) – More
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FAO Names: en - Swordfish, fr - Espadon, es - Pez espada, ru - Меч-рыба
Geographic extent of Swordfish - Northeastern Pacific
Main Descriptors
Considered a single stock: Yes        Spatial Scale: Regional
Management unit: Yes        Reference year: 2018
Biological State and Trend
State & Trend Descriptors
Exploitation rateModerate fishing mortalityModerate fishing mortalityGreen
Abundance levelIntermediate abundanceIntermediate abundance
FAO Categories
Exploitation stateModerately exploited
Habitat and Biology
Depth zone: Abyssal ( >1000m).   Horizontal distribution: Oceanic.   Vertical distribution: Pelagic.  

Geographical Distribution
Jurisdictional distribution: Highly migratory

Water Area Overview
Spatial Scale: Regional

Geo References
Resource Structure
Considered a single stock: Yes

The stock structure of swordfish in the Pacific is fairly well known. A number of specific regions of spawning are known, and analyses of fisheries and genetic data suggest that there is only limited exchange of swordfish between geographical areas, including between the eastern and western, and the northern and southern, Pacific Ocean.

The best available scientific information from genetic and fishery data indicate that the swordfish of the northeastern Pacific Ocean (NEPO) and the southeastern Pacific Ocean (SEPO: south of about 5°S) constitute two distinct stocks. Also, there may be occasional movement of a northwestern Pacific stock of swordfish into the EPO at various times. However, recent electronic tagging of 47 swordfish off the southern California coast suggests that there may be more mixing of fish between northern and southern regions of the EPO—and possibly eastern and western—than previously thought. To this point, however, assessments of eastern Pacific stocks did not include parameters for movements among these or other stocks.

Swordfish grow in length very rapidly, with both males and the faster-growing females reaching lower-jaw-fork lengths of more than a meter during their first year. Swordfish begin reaching maturity at about two years of age, when they are about 150 to 170 cm in length, and by age four all are mature. They probably spawn more than once per season. For fish greater than 170 cm in length, the proportion of females increases with increasing length.

Swordfish tend to inhabit waters further below the surface during the day than at night, and they tend to inhabit frontal zones. Several of these occur in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), including areas off California and Baja California, off Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, and in the equatorial Pacific. Swordfish tolerate temperatures of about 5° to 27°C, but their optimum range is about 18° to 22°C, and larvae have been found only at temperatures exceeding 24°C.

Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) occur throughout the Pacific Ocean between about 50°N and 50°S. They are caught mostly by the longline fisheries of Far East and Western Hemisphere nations. Lesser amounts are taken by gillnet and harpoon fisheries. They are seldom caught in the recreational fishery.

See also fishery fact sheet:EPO Tunas and billfishes fishery
Retained catches of swordfish in the North EPO.
Overall Assessment Results

The results of an assessment of a North Pacific swordfish stock in the area north of 10°N and west of 140°W indicate that the biomass level has been stable and well above 50% of the unexploited levels of stock biomass, indicating that these swordfish are not overexploited at current levels of fishing effort. A more recent analysis for the Pacific Ocean north of the equator, using a sex-specific age-structured assessment method, indicated that, at the current level of fishing effort, there is negligible risk of the spawning biomass decreasing to less than 40% of its unfished level. A stock assessment of the western and central North Pacific stock completed by the ISC in 2018 concluded that, relative to MSY-based reference points, in 2016 the stock was probably not overfished and was probably not experiencing overfishing, as the SPR(MSY) (the spawning potential ratio at MSY) was 18%.

The standardized catches per unit of effort of the longline fisheries in the North EPO and trends in relative abundance obtained from them do not indicate declining abundances. Attempts to fit production models to the data failed to produce estimates of management parameters, such as maximum sustainable yield (MSY), under reasonable assumptions of natural mortality rates, due to lack of contrast in the trends. This lack of contrast suggests that the fisheries in this region have not been of magnitudes sufficient to cause significant responses in the populations. Based on these considerations, and the long period of relatively stable catches, it appears that swordfish are not overfished in the northern EPO (Figure G-1).
Figure G-1: Retained catches of swordfish in the North EPO.

In the North EPO the annual longline fishing effort, despite an increase from about 23.7 million hooks in 2007 to about 43.9 million in 2011, remains significantly below the 2001-2003 average of 70.4 million hooks. Since about 2006 the catch of swordfish has remained directly proportional to longline fishing effort. Considering the continuing relatively low fishing effort and the direct response of catch to effort, at the current level of fishing effort there is negligible risk of the spawning biomass decreasing to less than 40% of its unfished level.
Management unit: Yes
Source of information
Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). “"Tuna fishery, stocks, and ecosystem in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 2018. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission." Fishery Status Report. IATTC 2019.”.
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