Swordfish, an iconic migratory species in the Mediterranean, has been a source of income for fishermen and their families since ancient times. Unfortunately swordfish has been overfished in the last 30 years and we will be facing a potential total collapse of the stock if no action is taken soon.
In areas such as the Strait of Messina, in Italy, swordfish were traditionally caught using a particular boat – the Feluca – with a mast used to sight the fish swimming on the surface. These boats were very fast, with the harpooner standing at the end of a footbridge extending about 10m from the bow of the boat.
Nowadays there are very few traditional, harpoon fishing vessels. Technological innovations have changed the boats, although some rituals still remain: when a fish is caught and lifted on board one of the crew impresses a double cross on the right cheek of the fish as a sign of respect for the fish and in recognition of its qualities as a noble fighter.
Following the ban on the use of driftnets for highly migratory species in 2003, drifting longlines have predominantly been used to catch swordfish in the Mediterranean (on average, representing 84% of the annual catch). Despite the ban, there is still concern about the ongoing illegal use of driftnets in some countries.
What consumers can do to help
- Swordfish prices can reach up to €25 per kilo.
- Countries with the largest reported catches (percentage of total catches 2003-2015): Italy (45%), Morocco (14%), Spain (13%), Greece (10%) and Tunisia (7%).
- Algeria, Cyprus, Malta and Turkey also have fisheries targeting swordfish in the Mediterranean.
- The EU fleet accounts for 75% of total catches in the Mediterranean and makes up 85% of the entire fleet.
- We are catching twice the sustainable level of swordfish. The fish doesn’t have time to reproduce: high rates of juvenile catches (fish of less than 3 years) currently reach around 70% of total catches.
- The minimum landing size is now set at 90cm, which is much smaller than the size at first maturity recognized by scientists.
- Mediterranean swordfish spawning stock has decreased by 88% in terms of biomass, from the levels that are considered sustainable, since the mid 1980s.
Consumers can play a very important role in the future of this species, by:
By protecting swordfish, we will ensure the survival of a key species for the Mediterranean ecosystem and for the fishing communities whose livelihoods and prosperity depend on it.
- Not buying undersized (juvenile) fish
- Not buying swordfish when the fishery is closed.