North Atlantic swordfish show dramatic recovery

New scientific assessment shows that when “given a break” fish can rebound; Give Swordfish a Break Campaign organizers jubilant over findings.

provided by NRDC

orth Atlantic, swordfish have recovered to 94% of levels considered healthy over the past three years, according to a new report issued by the scientific arm of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

    In 1998, Give Swordfish a Break organizers SeaWeb and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with other conservation organizations, successfully advocated for recovery measures to restore North Atlantic swordfish. North Atlantic swordfish had been severely depleted after decades of overfishing and mismanagement. The new report is the first assessment of north Atlantic swordfish since those measures, which included reduced international quotas and protection of swordfish nursery areas in the United States, were adopted.

    “This report shows that if we give fish a break, they can recover,” said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst with NRDC. “This is a real victory for swordfish and shows that we can restore seriously depleted fish.”

    “All the participants in the Give Swordfish a Break campaign can feel incredibly proud that their actions helped make the difference for this fish,” said Vikki Spruill, executive director of SeaWeb. “Overfishing and business-as-usual is not acceptable. This recovery shows that making tough decisions pays off.”

    The campaign officially ended in August, 2000 when the US government closed nursery areas in US waters, thus meeting the second goal of the campaign. International quota restrictions were adopted in 1999.

    Give Swordfish a Break was the first large effort to mobilize chefs and consumers to support stronger fish conservation. Over the course of the campaign, hundreds of chefs signed the Give Swordfish a Break pledge, while others – the Peabody hotel chain, cruise lines, grocery stores, airlines, and uncounted others – agreed to remove North Atlantic swordfish from the menus and dining choices.

    “When SeaWeb and NRDC first approached me about this campaign, I knew I had to participate,” said Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora and Asia Nora in Washington D.C. “I knew there was a problem just watching swordfish get smaller and smaller in the markets – changes had to be made. It is wonderful that the initial result of these changes are positive, but we need to continue to stay the course. I can't wait to see the large fish come back.”

    “We saw striped bass come back in the 1980s after we stopped fishing them for a time. Now it's swordfish,” said Rick Moonen of restaurant RM in New York. “As a restaurateur, I need to make sure my seafood supply is stable into the future. This is a victory for consumers who love seafood and we need more victories like this”

    Next month the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas will meet to decide whether to maintain lower quotas that sped the recovery, or to permit overfishing of swordfish to resume. Members of the commission include the United States, Japan, Spain, and other major fishing nations.

    “The United States needs to ensure that this hard-won victory for swordfish doesn't vanish under pressure from other countries to raise quotas,” said Speer. “This recovery is fragile and uncertain, and renewed pressure could easily take us back to the bad old days of depleted stocks and out-of-work fishermen.”

    NRDC and SeaWeb also voiced strong support for retaining protections for swordfish nursery areas, which are critical to the recovery. The adult swordfish population has recovered only slightly in the past several years, and majority of fish are juveniles that have not had the chance to reproduce. Finally, the two groups are concerned that if swordfish quotas are increased, longline gear used to catch swordfish will also increase. Longlines catch and kill many other ocean creatures, including sea turtles, birds and other fish, such as marlin. For all these reasons, it is important to retain strong conservation and recovery measures domestically and internationally, the groups said.

    “Give Swordfish a Break served to raise awareness to the problems of overfishing and showed consumers that making better seafood choices is good for the ocean, good for the fish, and good for the fishermen, said Spruill. “We hope consumers will continue to make seafood choices that are good for the environment.”

    Many conservation organizations worked to save North Atlantic swordfish including the Ocean Wildlife Campaign, which consists of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Wildlife Conservation Society, National Audubon Society, National Coalition for Marine Conservation, The Ocean Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund, along with Oceana.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los AngeIes, and San Francisco. More information is available through NRDC's Web site at

    SeaWeb is a multimedia public education effort designed to raise awareness of the world's oceans and the life within. SeaWeb's outreach is anchored in science, with the goal of making ocean protection a high environmental priority in the United States and around the world. For more information visit