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November 12, 2015

Mediterranean swordfish: from the plate to the politicians’ table

*** Local Caption *** Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) caugth by a feluca, typical vessel for artisanal fishing swordfish with harpoon. Ganzirri, Italy. July 2014. Pez espada (Xiphias gladius) capturado por una feluca, embarcación característica para la pesca artesanal con arpón de pez espada. Ganzirri, Italia. Julio 2014


Finally, Mediterranean swordfish has been recognised as an urgent issue that needs to be addressed. This is music to the ears of us at Oceana as we’ve been campaigning for this issue for many years. Finally, politicians have reacted to the terrible situation that has developed: after 30 years of overfishing, the stock is just one third of what it used to be in the 1980s.

On Tuesday, the organisation in charge of managing this species convened on its annual meeting. Speaking to the ICCAT plenary, Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, described Mediterranean swordfish as a “worrying example” and acknowledged that “urgent steps are needed to halt the decline”. This sounds promising but it can’t be left only in words; it must be translated in actions.

Currently, Mediterranean swordfish is fished with no limits by an oversized fleet of more than 15,000 vessels. It badly needs a recovery plan including Total Allowable Catches, a reduction of the fleet overcapacity, surveillance against illegal fishing and larger landing sizes to avoid catching juveniles. And the recovery plan must begin immediately; there is nothing to win by postponing it.

Many ship-owners are already calling for measures. If these measures are not approved when the ICCAT meeting ends on the 17th, it can only be explained through a lack of political willingness of the EU Member States leading the fishery. They have a responsibility towards the stock and towards the fleet depending on it. Mediterranean swordfish is already in a critical situation and words – albeit very nice words – will not be enough to save the stock. It needs real action, now.