Public Release: 

North Atlantic swordfish stocks nearly recovered

Wildlife Conservation Society says good science and conservation helped populations bounce back

Wildlife Conservation Society

NEW YORK (OCT. 3, 2002) -- Strong regulations backed by hard science played a significant part in the remarkable comeback of North Atlantic swordfish populations, which have largely recovered, according to the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS played a key role in making scientific recommendations adopted by fishery regulators to protect swordfish, which were being rapidly depleted by overfishing just three years ago.

"The recovery of North Atlantic swordfish population clearly shows that good science can go hand-in-hand with good fisheries management," said Dr. Ellen Pikitch, director of WCS's Marine Programs. "This is an incredible victory for conservationists, commercial fishermen, consumers, and -- of course -- swordfish."

WCS began working to protect swordfish in 1999, when it proposed a new method for evaluating swordfish populations for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICAAT), the agency responsible for managing tunas and swordfish. When WCS scientists Dr. Ellen Pikitch and Dr. Beth Babcock attended an ICCAT swordfish assessment meeting in 1999, they found that North Atlantic swordfish were being depleted by overfishing. They recommended that catches needed to be reduced to a 10,000 metric-ton quota to give the population a chance to recover within 10 years. Along with the quota, areas closed to fishing to protect juvenile swordfish were also adopted by the U.S, to speed rebuilding of swordfish populations.

At the most recent ICCAT meeting in Madrid last month, Dr. Babcock and other scientists evaluated the stocks again, and found that they were rebuilding much more rapidly than expected. The North Atlantic swordfish population is currently at 94 percent of the level at which "maximum sustainable yield" can be produced on a long-term basis.

"If recent catch levels continue, there is more than an 80 percent chance that the population will recover by 2009 or even sooner," said Dr. Babcock.

Many conservation organizations worked to save North American swordfish including the Ocean Wildlife Campaign, which consists of WCS, National Audubon Society, National Coalition for Marine Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund; along with Oceana, Sea Web and the Give Swordfish a Break Campaign - a consumer awareness program.

"While the recovery of North Atlantic swordfish populations is a great victory, the battle is far from over," said Dr. Pikitch. "We need to continue to protect juvenile swordfish, and minimize 'bycatch' of severely depleted species such as white and blue marlin, which are still accidentally taken by swordfish boats."

WCS was quick to point out that status of swordfish populations in the South Atlantic and Pacific are unknown and probably overfished. Later this month, WCS and Audubon's Living Oceans program will be releasing a seafood awareness card that gives consumers information on the conservation status of many commercial fish and shellfish.

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Additional Contact:
John Delaney (718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org)

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