Swordfish & Billfish

Swordfish and other billfish are hunted for food and for sport. The indiscriminate methods used to catch them also puts additional pressure on other vulnerable and endangered species such as marine turtles and tuna.
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Arabian Gulf sailfish with tag.
© Xavier Eichaker

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Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Billfish

  • Family Names

    Xiphias (Swordfish) and Istiophoridae

  • How many?

    Include marlin, sailfish, swordfish and spearfish

  • Length

    Maximum 455cm

Armed and in danger

Billfish include the swordfish (sole member of the family Xiphiidae) and marlin, sailfish and spearfish (family Istiophoridae).

These fish dominate the seas as a top predator, but their pursuit and harvest by humans puts them under threat.

They are distinguished by their elongated nasal bones which form the 'bill'. Sailfishes also have  an erectile dorsal fin, known as a sail, which often stretches the entire length of the back.

Swordfish and billfish are found worldwide in tropical, subtropical and temperate seas. Their diet consists of smaller pelagic and benthic fish, squid and octopus.

Swordfish and billfish are built for speed with their long bills cutting through the water and their aerodynamic bodies allowing them to reach speeds of up to 120 kph making them among the fastest fish in the ocean.

 / ©: WWF-Canon / James W. LATOURETTE
Swordfish being caught Florida United States of America
© WWF-Canon / James W. LATOURETTE

Priority species

Swordfish and billfish are a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

What are the main threats?

Swordfish and other billfish are at risk from overfishing and as a target in recreation fishing. The indisciminate methods used to catch billfish, such as longline fishing also poses a threat to numerous other endangered species, including marine turtles, dolphins and sharks.

A significant number of swordfish are also caught by illegal driftnet fisheries in the Mediterranean. Labelled “walls of death”, driftnets are also indiscriminate, catching any animal that crosses their path. Both species of marlin face a specific threat to their future due to bycatch by tuna or swordfish fisheries.

There is also insufficient regulation to ensure that fisheries comply with rules.

News: Swordfish slip through the net.



 / ©: Rob Hughes
Sailfish
© Rob Hughes

What is WWF doing?

WWF has expressed concerns that overfishing of swordfish may lead to a severe depletion in population levels. It lobbies for protected areas to ensure swordfish fisheries are sustainable.

WWF also monitors catch to ensure fisheries are adhering to minimum size limits and argues for stronger controls to ensure regulations are enforced.

WWF promotes sustainable fishing through its support for the Marine Stewardship Council.

WWF seeks to address the problem of bycatch by working with fisheries to develop smart fishing methods which gather only the target species and not other endangered species.


Swordfish steak / ©: www.laurafries.com
The swordfish steak comes with a heavy toll of other marine life caught alongside the swordfish — including endangered sharks, dolphins, and marine turtles.
© www.laurafries.com
 / ©: MSC
MSC logo
© MSC

How you can help

  • Think about what you eat! Take a stand against unsustainable fishing practices and only buy MSC certified fish and seafood.
  • Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.
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