Distribution & Size
Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) are a popular sport fish of the
billfish category, though
elusive. Swordfish are elongated, round-bodied, and lose all
teeth and scales by adulthood. These fish are found widely
in tropical and temperate parts of the
Indian oceans, and can
typically be found from near the surface to a depth of 550 m
(1,800 ft). They commonly reach 3 m (9.8 ft) in length, and
the maximum reported is 4.55 m (14.9 ft) in length and 650
kg (1,400 lb) in weight. They are also found in the Gulf of
They are the sole member of their
Recreational fishing has developed a sub-specialty called
swordfishing. Because there is a ban on long-lining along
many parts of seashore, swordfish populations are showing
signs of recovery from the overfishing caused by long-lining
along the coast. Swordfish over 200 pounds are generally
females and tend to migrate to the surface at night, when
most drift fishing occurs.
Tackle & Bait
There are various ways to fish for swordfish, but the
most common method is deep-sea fishing. Because many swordfish used to
be caught by long-lining near shore, the remaining population of
swordfish live about 40 mi (64 km) or more off the coast. The boat is
allowed to drift, as the ocean bottom is too deep for anchors.
Swordfishing requires a specialized, strengthened fishing rod as
swordfish are quite large. Standard bait is large chunks of mackerel,
herring, mullet, bonito or squid; one can also use live bait. Imitation
squids and other imitation fish lures can also be used, and specialized
lures made specifically for sword fishing using plastic
glow sticks or submersible lights are also used.
8/0 to 11/0 hooks drifted with balloons to help detect the strike.
Swordfish are classified as
oily fish. Many sources
Food and Drug Administration
warn about potential toxicity from high levels of
methylmercury in swordfish.
The FDA recommends that young children, pregnant women, and
women of child-bearing age not eat swordfish. (See
mercury in fish for more
The flesh of some swordfish can acquire an
orange tint, reportedly from their diet of shrimp or other
prey. Such fish are sold as "pumpkin swordfish," and command
a premium over their whitish counterparts. (Information from
Swordfish is a particularly popular fish for cooking.
Since swordfish are large animals, meat is usually sold as
steaks, which are often
grilled. Swordfish meat is
relatively firm, and can be cooked in ways more fragile
types of fish cannot (such as over a grill on skewers). The
color of the flesh varies by diet, with fish caught on the
east coast of
North America often being
State Limits &
Swordfish are not listed as an endangered
species by the
In 1998, the United States
Natural Resources Defense Council
and SeaWeb hired
Fenton Communications to
conduct an advertising campaign to promote their assertion
that the swordfish population was in danger due to its
popularity as a restaurant entree.
The resulting "Give Swordfish a Break"
promotion was wildly successful, with 750 prominent U.S.
chefs agreeing to remove North Atlantic swordfish from their
menus, and also persuaded many supermarkets and consumers
across the country.
The advertising campaign was repeated by
the national media in hundreds of print and broadcast
stories, as well as extensive regional coverage. It earned
Silver Anvil award from the
Public Relations Society of America as well as Time
magazine's award for the top five environmental stories of
Subsequently, the US
National Marine Fisheries Service
proposed a swordfish protection plan that incorporated the
campaign's policy suggestions.
Bill Clinton called for a
ban on the sale and import of swordfish and in a landmark
decision by the federal government, 132,670 sq mi (343,600
km2) of the Atlantic ocean were placed off-limits
to fishing as recommended by the sponsors.
In the North Atlantic, the swordfish
stock is fully rebuilt, with biomass estimates currently 5%
above the target level. There are no robust stock
assessments for swordfish in the northwestern Pacific or
South Atlantic, and there is a paucity of data concerning
stock status in these regions. These stocks are considered
unknown and a moderate conservation concern. The
southwestern Pacific stock is a moderate concern due to
model uncertainty, increasing catches, and declining CPUEs (Catch
per unit effort