Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

Swordfish - Southeastern Pacific
Fact Sheet Title  Fact Sheet
Data Quality Assurance fact sheets 2022
Swordfish - Southeastern Pacific
Fact Sheet Citation  
Owned byInter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) – ownership
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Species List:
Species Ref: en - Swordfish, fr - Espadon, es - Pez espada, ru - Меч-рыба
ident Block Swordfish - Southeastern Pacific
Aq Res
Biological Stock: Yes         Value: Regional
Management unit: Yes        Reference year: 2020
Aq Res State Trend
Aq Res State Trend
Aq Res State Trend Aq Res State Trend
Aq Res State TrendModerate fishing mortalityModerate fishing mortalityGreen
Aq Res State TrendIntermediate abundanceIntermediate abundance
Aq Res State Trend
Aq Res State TrendFully exploited
Habitat Bio
Depth Zone: Abyssal ( >1000m).   Horizontal Dist: Oceanic.   Vertical Dist: Pelagic.  

Geo Dist
Geo Dist: Highly migratory

Water Area Overview
Spatial Scale: Regional

Water Area Overview
Aq Res Struct
Biological Stock: Yes

Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) occur throughout the Pacific Ocean (PO) between about 50°N and 50°S. In the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), they are caught mostly by the longline fishery—about 80% of the catch in weight on average in recent years —by distant water fleets of Far East and Western Hemisphere nations. Lesser amounts are taken by drifting gillnets (~20%), mainly in South America, and minimal amounts by other gillnets and harpoon. They are seldom caught in the recreational fishery in the EPO.

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 current frontal zones. Several of these fronts 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 preferred range is about 18° to 22°C, while larvae have been found only at temperatures exceeding 24°C.

There is strong evidence that swordfish in the Pacific comprise multiple stocks. Several specific spawning regions are known, and analyses of fisheries, tagging 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. As many as six stocks may exist in the Pacific Ocean, but the exact boundaries of these stocks, as well as their exchange rates—for the purposes of stock assessment—is currently uncertain. In the early 2000’s, the IATTC produced indicators for swordfish in five areas of the EPO: two areas north of 10°N, separated at 125°W, a central area between 10°N and 5°S, and two areas south of 5°S, separated at 90°W.

The total annual longline fishing effort for the main longline fleets in the south EPO in the last 30 years was 210 million hooks in 1991 and declined steadily to about half that in 1999, increasing again to an average of 184 million hooks in 2001–2004, decreasing to about 89 million hooks in 2008. In the past 5 years, the total effort has been relatively stable, averaging 155 million hooks (2016–2020) (Figure G-3).
Figure G-3: Longline fishing effort (in millions of hooks) in the South EPO for the main longline fleets for 1992-2020 (Table A-9).

In the South EPO, catches have been steadily increasing since about 2006, reaching a peak catch of 29,869 mt in 2016, after which catches declined slightly to 23,710 mt in 2020. Nonetheless, the average annual catch over the past 5 years (during 2015–2019) was 25,718 mt, which is in the vicinity of the estimated MSY (~25,000 t) for the area south of 5S (Figure G-4).
Figure G-4: Retained catches of swordfish in the South EPO for 1945-2020.

In 2020, the IATTC staff hosted the 1st Technical Workshop on Swordfish in the South EPO (SWO-01)—in a virtual format—in preparation for the 2021 IATTC stock assessment. The latest information on stock structure was reviewed, and a plan for exploring the stock structure uncertainty was established. The area north of 5S and south of 10N will be explored in the South EPO assessment, which includes the area south of 5S that defined the stock boundary in the previous assessment (SAC-02-09). The IATTC staff plans to host additional workshops during 2021 to conclude the South EPO assessment in collaboration with the main CPCs.

See also fishery fact sheet:EPO Tunas and billfishes fishery

Bio Assess

For the South PO, three assessments are noteworthy, with partially overlapping boundaries. In 2017, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) undertook an assessment of the southern hemisphere swordfish stock. The assumed stock included the entire western and central Pacific Ocean and, in the EPO, extended southward from 4°S and eastward to 130°W (SC13-SA-WP-13), which is the overlapping area between the IATTC and the WCPFC jurisdictions. Considerable catch of swordfish east of 130°W, was not part of that assessment. In 2010, an exploratory stock assessment of swordfish for the Chilean EEZ was undertaken which integrated partial information from distant water fleets (IFOP 2010). In 2011, the IATTC performed a south EPO assessment of the area south of 5°S (SAC-02-09), which is the most recent assessment done by the IATTC in the south EPO. The key results from that assessment—conducted using Stock Synthesis.

Key results from that assessment were that

  1. the swordfish stock in the South EPO was not experiencing overfishing and was not overfished;
  2. the spawning biomass ratio was about 1.45, indicating that the spawning biomass was about 50% above the virgin spawning biomass, and substantially above the level expected to produce catch at the MSY level.
  3. There was no indication of a significant impact of fishing on this stock. The results of the assessment did suggest an expansion of the fishery to components of the stock that were previously not, or only lightly, exploited.

Management unit: Yes
Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). “Report on tuna fishery, stocks, and ecosystem in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2021. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. Fishery Status Report. IATTC 2022.” Click to open,-stocks,-and-ecosystem-in-the-Eastern-Pacific-Ocean-in-2021-(1).pdf
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