Mediterranean swordfish threatened by overfishing, WWF tells fishing nations

ICCAT meeting of 48 fishing nations to determine new catch limits for swordfish, tuna and shark

The World Wildlife Fund is calling on 48 fishing nations gathering on Monday in Vilamoura, Portugal to end over three decades of overfishing of the Mediterranean swordfish and adopt an ambitious recovery plan to avoid the collapse of the species. 

Countries which are part of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), including the United States and Japan, plus the European Union (EU), will decide from 14 to 21 November on management schemes for key species such as Mediterranean swordfish, Bluefin tuna, and sharks.

WWF said it was “seriously concerned” about the current rate of depletion of swordfish and called for actions that will prevent the stock collapse witnessed for the Mediterranean bluefin tuna in the recent past.  

“The future of the Mediterranean swordfish is seriously at risk,” Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director of WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative, said. “Catches have decreased by almost 50% in the last 20 years and too many juveniles are caught before they can reproduce and secure the survival of the species. We cannot afford to delay actions and repeat the same mistake that brought Bluefin tuna to the verge of collapse in the past.”

According to ICCAT's scientific committee, swordfish stock spawning biomass (SSB) – the combined weight of all individuals in the stock that are capable of reproducing – is 88% lower than the levels considered safe to maintain the stock, fish catches are twice as high as they should be and 70% of the fish caught is juvenile (0-3 years).

“There is the need for urgent action to reverse the decline of the stock,” Di Carlo added. “It is critical for ICCAT to implement an ambitious recovery plan for the Mediterranean swordfish to bring the stock back to a sustainable level. This will ensure the survival of large Mediterranean fisheries communities whose livelihood and prosperity depend on it.”

Mediterranean swordfish is a highly valuable species for many countries in the Mediterranean and the EU fleet accounts for 75% of the total catches, with Italy, Spain and Greece reporting the largest catches.

WWF wants the European Commission and key EU fishing nations to significantly reduce the amount of swordfish caught to allow the stock to recover.

WWF acknowledged that the situation of Bluefin tuna stock was improving and recommended a precautionary approach to maintain the current recovery plan in 2017, set at 23,155 tonnes.

WWF said it was also concerned about the fate of sharks, especially the blue and shortfin mako that are vulnerable to overfishing. “WWF urges ICCAT governments to establish long-term management plans including setting precautionary catch limits to ensure these iconic species stay in our seas. ICCAT should also agree on a no-shark-finning policy as well as improving compliance to existing bans that oblige fishermen to land sharks with their fin attached.”

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