There is possibly no more dramatic sport fish to catch than the swordfish, with its bold coloring, massive size, and of course, the long, sharp bill that gives it its name. These deep-sea fish are native to all temperate and tropical waters and are a challenge to catch. They’re also delicious. Having swordfish on the menu is a status symbol for restaurants around the world.
Fortunately for the world, the swordfish is not endangered. It’s heavily fished for both sport and for export around the world, and overfished in certain specific waters, but they are prolific breeders. The problem lies in the way they are being fished today.
Historically, swordfish and other deep-water fish were caught with bait and hook, even at the commercial level. But as demand has increased over the decades, drift gillnets are increasingly being used. Drift gillnets are the nuclear bomb of the commercial fishing arsenal: massive nets, as long as 30 miles long prior to regulation and 1.5 miles long today, are towed through the water, catching everything in their path from the surface as far down as 500 meters. By-catch—trapped marine animals that aren’t what the fisheries are seeking—is enormous, and massively detrimental to other marine species that actually are endangered.
“Drift gillnets are responsible for trapping and killing more than 60 different species of marine wildlife, and this legislation will ensure no more whales or dolphins fall victim to this unsustainable fishery,” Turtle Island Restoration Network Police and Advocacy Manager Annalisa Batanides Tuel said in a statement.
On July 23, 2020, a bipartisan bill was passed in the U.S. Senate to ban the use of drift gillnets in swordfish or shark fishing in U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean. Over a five-year period, the bill would require all fisheries working in those waters, whether based in the U.S. or elsewhere, to transition away from drift gillnets to more sustainable measures.
“It’s long past time to get these ‘Walls of Death’ out of our oceans,” said Oceana Deputy Vice President for the U.S. Pacific Susan Murray, in her testimony to the Senate. “There are better and cleaner ways to catch swordfish that don’t kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine animals. Now is the time for us to stop using these deadly nets and convert to proven alternatives, such as deep-set buoy gear.”