Latin name: Xiphias gladius

Common name: Broadbill Swordfish

  • Eat Less

Wild Caught

Commonwealth waters

Key Facts

  • Swordfish is a migratory species caught by a number of different countries, including Australia, where fisheries operate along the eastern and western coastlines.
  • While there is some uncertainty around the stock status of swordfish, scientists have assessed stocks caught in Australia are likely healthy.
  • There are some concerns that fishing pressure in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans is set too high, which could lead to overfished stocks in future.
  • Video monitoring of fishing boats operating in the tuna fisheries is a welcome advance, improving confidence in fishery log book reports.
  • Swordfish are caught on longlines that also catch endangered wildlife, such as turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins.
  • Reported interactions with turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins have increased significantly in recent years, particularly in the larger eastern fishery, most likely as a result of the introduction of video monitoring in this fishery.
  • The number of threatened and protected wildlife caught in the fishery is of increasing concern, and fishery managers would need to put wildlife protection measures in place to retain an Amber rating in future.

More information

  • Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (1,137t in 2017-18)
  • Commonwealth Western Tuna and Billfish Fishery (220t in 2015)

Swordfish is a highly migratory species, fished throughout its range in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea. The amber ‘Eat Less’ ranking is the result of an assessment of the Australian fisheries that catch swordfish.

Swordfish is caught in two fisheries in Australia that mainly target tuna. Two different stocks are caught in Australian fisheries; the southwest Pacific Ocean stock is caught in the eastern fishery and the Indian Ocean stock is caught in the western. Swordfish is a highly migratory species and both Australian stocks are also caught in fisheries managed by other nations, including China, Taiwan and New Zealand.

The stock structure of swordfish is complicated, as there are a number of different stocks in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that are targeted by a range of different countries. There is some uncertainty around the stock status of swordfish, particularly along the eastern coast of Australia, but scientists have assessed that both stocks of swordfish taken in Australian-managed fisheries operating on the eastern and western coastlines are likely healthy. Fisheries data does suggest that fishing pressure is possibly too high in both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which could lead to overfished stocks in the future.

Swordfish are caught using longlines in Australian waters, which also catch a range of threatened species. In previous years, fishery observers undertook independent monitoring of the impact of fishing on endangered wildlife. Video monitoring across the fishing fleet was rolled out in 2015; this welcome progress provides confidence in reporting of wildlife affected by the fishery.

However, video monitoring has identified that fishers in the eastern and western fisheries were significantly under-reporting how much endangered wildlife was killed in the past, which means that the impact of these fisheries is substantially higher than previously thought. Since cameras have been installed on boats, the number of turtles, seabirds, whales and dolphins recorded as caught has significantly increased.

In the larger eastern fishery, the catch of turtles in particular has increased over the past decade. In 2017, 194 turtles were caught, compared to the 4-16 that were reported as caught annually in the three years before video monitoring was mandated on the fishing vessels. In previous years, a ‘trigger limit’ was in place which required fishery managers to take action if the rate of turtle catch exceeded a certain level. This trigger limit has since been removed, which means there are no measures in place to cap the number of turtles caught in the tuna fishery.

A similar picture has emerged in seabird and marine mammal bycatch. There were zero seabirds recorded in log-books in 2013, before video cameras were installed, but 34 killed in 2017 after camera installation. Similarly, no dolphin or whale deaths were reported in 2013 or 2014, but 7 dolphins and whales were killed in 2017.

Turtles, whales, dolphins and seabirds are at risk from multiple threats, including fishing. Given the small scale of the Australian tuna fishery relative to international tuna fisheries, it is unlikely that this fishery is the major driver of on-going population declines in these species of endangered wildlife. As the framework that is in place to manage the fishery is robust, it is expected the identification of these issues will lead to improvements in the fishery. Increased monitoring of the fishery is a significant improvement, leading to greater transparency and more reliable fishery reporting. However, fishery managers would need to put wildlife protection measures in place to reduce the impact of fishing on these species in order to maintain an Amber ‘ Think Twice’ rating in future.

Commonwealth marine parks, set to be established in 2018, may provide a degree of protection to endangered wildlife. However, it is notable that sectors of the tuna fishing industry sought, and may yet secure, significant reductions in the areas protected from fishing in offshore eastern and western Australian waters.