WWF demands ICCAT protect ‘seriously at risk’ Mediterranean swordfish

With serious concerns about the current rate of depletion of Mediterranean swordfish, WWF has called on the 48 fishing nations coming together for the 20th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), taking place 14-21 November in Vilamoura, Portugal, to urgently adopt an ambitious recovery plan to prevent the collapse of the species. 

“The future of the Mediterranean swordfish is seriously at risk," said Giuseppe Di Carlo, director of WWF's Mediterranean Marine Initiative. "Catches have decreased by almost 50 percent 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, the swordfish stock spawning biomass (SSB) – the combined weight of all individuals in the stock that are capable of reproducing – is 88 percent lower than the levels considered safe to maintain the stock, fish catches are twice as high as they should be and 70 percent of the fish caught are juveniles (0-3 years).

“There is the need for urgent action to reverse the decline of the stock,” said Di Carlo. “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 livelihoods 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 percent of the total catch, with Italy, Spain and Greece reporting the largest catches.

Specifically, WWF has requested that ICCAT take the following six steps to protect the swordfish resource:

  • Adopt a recovery plan for Mediterranean swordfish
  • Ban the use of all drifting longlines from 1 October to the end of February
  • Establish a total allowable catch (TAC) limit
  • Fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
  • Review the minimum conservation reference size
  • Explore the use of circle hooks for drifting longlines to reduce unwanted catches

WWF is also concerned about the fate of sharks, especially blue and shortfin mako species that are vulnerable to overfishing and has therefore urged ICCAT governments to establish long-term management plans including setting precautionary catch limits. It also wants ICCAT to 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.

With regard to bluefin tuna, WWF acknowledged that the stock is improving and has recommended that a precautionary approach should be adopted – by maintaining the current recovery plan in 2017 with a total catch of 23,155 metric tons (MT).


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