NOAA Fisheries manages the US North Atlantic swordfish fishery through its Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division. The Division manages swordfish under the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The FMP includes management measures such as:
Limited access permits for longline and some handgear which thereby restricts the number of commercial fishing vessels in the swordfish fishery;
Commercial open access permits for some handgear (with the exception of buoy gear);
Annual catch limits and size and landing restrictions;
Reporting requirements and mandatory use of vessel monitoring systems (VMS); and,
Mandatory at-sea observer coverage (when selected).
Additionally, NOAA fisheries requires fishers to undertake the following measures to reduce bycatch in the US North Atlantic fishery:
Requirements that fishers use large circle hooks and bait restrictions;
Should fishers encounter a protected species they must immediately stop fishing and move their vessel one nautical mile away;
When fishing in the Mid-Atlantic Bight all lines must be limited to 20 nautical miles to protect pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins (they must additionally post handling/release guidelines on their vessels); and,
Specific area restrictions off-limits to fishing.
Swordfish are a highly migratory species (HMS) that move between the jurisdiction of multiple nations as well as the high seas, and as such their management requires international cooperation. The United Nations Law of the Sea indicates that the management of HMS be carried out through Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs). RFMOs are the only legally mandated fishery management body on the high seas. The RFMO responsible for the management of swordfish, as well as other Atlantic HMS, notably tunas, is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). ICCAT is made up of 51 contracting parties including the United States, Canada, Japan, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom and is responsible for management of the three swordfish stocks in the Atlantic: the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and the Mediterranean.
ICCAT implemented a 10-year rebuilding plan for North Atlantic swordfish between 2000 and 2009 that has subsequently been successful as the stock is now considered to be rebuilt and healthy. Currently, the South Atlantic stock is considered not likely overfished. The Mediterranean stock; however, is currently overfished with overfishing occurring and is not considered to be well-managed. ICAAT has implemented numerous management measures for swordfish such as: an annual fishing quota, country-specific total allowable catch (TAC) limits, minimum size limits, gear and area restrictions, and requirements that swordfish be landed whole. Additionally, member countries must report catch, catch at size, location, and other data to ICCAT to ensure catches do not exceed TACs. ICCAT has also adopted measures to reduce bycatch and to protect bycatch species, though the effectiveness of these measures is somewhat uncertain. Stock assessments for Atlantic swordfish are carried out every four years.
NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the North Pacific swordfish fishery on the US West Coast under the FMP for the US West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species. Under the FMP, fishers must: have permits, record catch, abide by gear restrictions (for example, longline fishing is prohibited within 200 miles of the US West Coast), observe time and area closures to reduce bycatch of sea turtles, and partake in mandatory training in safe handling and release techniques for bycatch species (longline vessels are also required to have equipment onboard to assist in handling and releasing bycatch).
NOAA Fisheries and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the North Pacific swordfish fishery in the US Pacific Islands under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Pelagic Fisheries of the Western Pacific. The majority of the US Pacific swordfish catch comes from Hawaiian-based longline vessels – accounting for roughly 65 percent of the total US North Pacific catch. Management measures include: permit requirements, gear restrictions to reduce bycatch, following handling and release protocols for bycatch (as well as mandatory training on handling and release techniques), limits on the amount of sea turtles that can be incidentally caught (if reached, the fishery closes), area closures to protect endangered species such as the Hawaiian monk seal, mandatory VMS, and observer coverage (when selected).
Like their Atlantic counterparts, Pacific swordfish are highly migratory, cross international boundaries and the high seas, and are fished by many nations. As such, their management also requires international cooperation. In the North and South Pacific, swordfish, along with tunas and other HMS, are managed by two RFMOs: the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. IATTC is composed of over 20 different nations including the United States, Canada, China, Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico while the WCPFC is composed of over 25 member countries including Australia, China, New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, France, the United States, and the Republic of Korea. Both RFMOs are responsible for setting management and compliance measures that all participating member nations must adhere to.
There are currently no TAC limits and no swordfish-specific management measures in place for swordfish under IATTC in the Eastern Pacific, but populations are considered to be relatively healthy. Catches in the Eastern Pacific have; however, been increasing in recent years, and are approaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY). While there are no swordfish-specific management measures under IATTC, member countries must report catch and landings data to IATTC and vessels over (24 meters) in length must have a VMS in place. Swordfish populations in the Western Central Pacific are also considered to be relatively healthy, but here are few swordfish-specific management measures in place under the WCPFC in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. Those measures that are in place aim to reduce fishing pressure on swordfish by limiting the number of fishing vessels and the amount of swordfish that can be caught. The WCPFC also has reporting requirements, VMS requirements, and there are spatial and temporal closures in the region. Observer coverage is considered to be low in both the Eastern and Western Central Pacific (roughly five percent on longline vessels). Both RFMOs have implemented bycatch mitigation measures aimed at protecting seabirds, sea turtles, and other finfish though the effectiveness of these measures is somewhat uncertain.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is the RFMO charged with managing swordfish in the Indian Ocean. There are currently 31 members (the majority of which are nation states) in the IOTC. Among management measures in place for member countries are: requirements that countries report the number of vessels exceeding 78 feet long (and under 78 feet long if fishing outside their exclusive economic zone), vessel monitoring requirements, a Fleet Development Plan for capacity control, bycatch mitigation strategies (particularly with sea turtles, juvenile tunas, and sharks), and observer coverage (IOTC requires at least five percent of vessels have an observer). Additionally, member countries are required to record and report catch and effort data by species and gear type. IOTC members are also required to submit any information regarding Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) vessels to the Commission.