New analysis reveals lack of trade traceability in lucrative Mediterranean swordfish market

Countries play trade game mixing healthy Atlantic swordfish with critical Mediterranean stock to face big market demand

Press Release Date: November 18, 2016

Location: Vilamoura, Portugal


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

As the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) today enters its fifth day of fisheries negotiations, all 51 countries have the future and fate of Mediterranean swordfish at the top of their agenda. The negotiations are taking place as new data, commissioned by Oceana, reveals a lack of traceability and transparency in this this highly commercial fish, which is now at a historic stock low.

The new trade analysis casts a serious red flag over the Mediterranean swordfish trade. With no proper management controls on catches in place, illegal fishing for this fishery is potentially widespread. Yet as stocks plummet, demand for this species, which can fetch up to €24 a kilo, remains extremely high. This scenario has given way to a ‘trade game’ between Mediterranean countries to import and export, with no clear traceability on the origin of the fish traded.

 “Patchy trade data mixes catches of the well-managed Atlantic swordfish stocks with those from the Mediterranean. We know Mediterranean swordfish is depleted, remains unmanaged, and its market is untraceable, which is leaving the ports wide open to illegal fishing and trade games to face demand. ICCAT Contracting Parties simply cannot deny that this fishery is completely out of control and the cost of losing it will have a dangerous impact on Mediterranean ecosystems and coastal communities”, said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe.

The analysis has found that:

  • To satisfy internal demand, Italy needs to import 4 times (16,363 t) more fresh swordfish than the amount it catches itself and relies heavily on Spain for fresh swordfish exports;
  • Since 2007, Spain has been exporting on average 8,323 t a year of fresh swordfish to Italy but it is unclear what the origin of this fish is;
  • On average, 38% (1,832 t) of Spain’s fresh swordfish imports comes from Morocco, making Morocco Spain’s biggest exporter of fresh swordfish. It is unclear if these exported catches originate from the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, highlighting the nonexistent  traceability in such catches;
  • Morocco has inconsistent trade data; during 2007-2011 its swordfish exports exceeded its catches by an average of 185 t, leaving an unexplained trade gap.
  • Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey do not appear to export their catches, thus relying on their own stock supply for internal demand;
  • Unlike bluefin tuna, an internationally traded species, Mediterranean swordfish is both traded and consumed entirely within the region.

The analysis shows the sheer importance of swordfish to the Mediterranean region and the urgent need to adopt a recovery plan and management controls in order to sustain the coastal states’ economies that depend on it.

Oceana is attending the ICCAT meeting to advocate for the adoption of a recovery plan for the depleted Mediterranean swordfish that would put an end to 30 years of excessive overfishing. Oceana believes that plan should include limiting and dramatically reducing catches, in line with scientific advice, through the adoption of a quota system and strong monitoring control and surveillance measures in order to prevent illegal fishing and to promote greater transparency and traceability.  

Click here for swordfish pictures (Flickr album)

Oceana’s recovery plan to save Mediterranean swordfish

More on Oceana’s 12-year Mediterranean swordfish campaign