Swordfish, broadbill, pez espada, emperador, espadon, shutome, dogusa, agulha
Swordfish are found in most of the planet’s seas and are fished by many countries including Japan, the United States, Italy, Spain, Canada, South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Mexico. The steak-like texture of its large, boneless fillets have made it a very popular eating fish, particularly in Asia and around the Mediterranean, and it is overfished almost everywhere. The only stocks considered relatively healthy are in the Eastern Pacific.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and SeaWeb, in collaboration with other environmental organizations, launched the campaign Give Swordfish a Break in 1998, successfully calling for restrictions on fishing to allow the North Atlantic stocks to regenerate. These stocks had been almost completely depleted by decades of overfishing and bad management.
Give Swordfish a Break was the first large-scale effort to raise awareness among consumers and chefs about the need to better protect fish species. During the campaign, hundreds of chefs signed the “Give Swordfish a Break Pledge,” promising not to serve swordfish in their restaurants, and a number of businesses, including hotel chains, cruise lines, grocery stores and airlines, also removed North Atlantic swordfish from their menus. The campaign was declared a success and officially ended in August 2000. Two years later, swordfish populations in the North Atlantic were declared to have reached 94% of full recovery.
The most common technique used to catch swordfish is the longline (a long fishing line with many shorter lines and hooks attached to it, holding the bait). Bycatch from this method is very high, and is particularly worrying because many threatened or endangered species, such as sharks, turtles and sea birds, can be accidentally caught. There are currently no international laws regulating bycatch and longlines are contributing to the potential extinction of these species. Other techniques such as harpoons and handlines produce almost no bycatch, but they are very rarely used in commercial swordfish fishing.
Swordfish is one of the fish with the highest concentrations of mercury in its flesh. Young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and women who may become pregnant should avoid swordfish or eat it only in great moderation.
The swordfish is a predator at the top of the food chain and plays an important role in the marine ecosystem.
Advice and Alternatives
Avoid swordfish caught with longlines by international fishing fleets. Completely boycott swordfish from the Mediterranean, where stocks have suffered greatly from overfishing. Some swordfish can be sustainable, depending on where it was caught and what fishing technique was used.
Consult online guides for sustainable alternatives in your region.