Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

Swordfish - Southeastern Pacific
Marine Resource  Fact Sheet
Data Quality Assurance fact sheets 2020
Swordfish - Southeastern 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 - Southeastern Pacific
Main Descriptors
Considered a single stock: Yes        Spatial Scale: Regional
Management unit: Yes        Reference year: 2019
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

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—80% of the catch in weight on average 2009-2018—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 harpoons. 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 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.

The annual longline fishing effort in the South EPO in the last 30 years was the highest in 1991 (260 million hooks), declined steadily to about half that in 2000, increasing again to an average of 220 million hooks in 2001-2003, decreasing to about 70 million hooks in 2008. In the past 5 years the total effort has been relatively stable, averaging 116 million hooks (2014–2018) (Figure G-3).
Figure G-3: Longline fishing effort (in millions of hooks) in the South EPO for the main longline fleets.

In the South EPO catches have been steadily increasing since about 2005, reaching a peak catch of 29,036 mt in 2016, after which catches declined to 24,649 mt and 23,213 mt in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Nonetheless, the average annual catch over the past 5 years (during 2014–2018) was 25,999 mt, which is in the vicinity of the estimated MSY (~25,000 t) (Figure G-4).

Figure G-4: Retained catches of swordfish in the South EPO.

The IATTC staff plans to undertake a new benchmark stock assessment for the South EPO in 2021 in collaboration with the main longline fishing nations that operate in the EPO.

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

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 PO 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 Chilean EEZ was undertaken and integrating 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.

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 carrying capacity, 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
Source of information
Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). “"Report on tuna fishery, stocks, and ecosystem in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in 2019. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission." Fishery Status Report. IATTC 2020.” Click to openIATTC-95-05_The fishery and status of the stocks 2019
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