Deep-set buoy gear
Deep-set buoy gear takes advantage of the relatively low co-occurrence between swordfish and protected species during daytime hours, which helps to reduce bycatch. Swordfish can be found deeper in the water column during the daytime, hunting for their prey such as mackerel and squid at around 300 meters (about 985 feet) deep.The gear sets baited hooks in deep water, which is very effective for targeting swordfish and other marketable species like opah or escolar, while reducing risk of bycatch for protected species such as marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks, or seabirds, which tend to spend time in warm surface waters during the day (above 100 meters, or about 330 feet). The gear is actively monitored and tended by fishermen who are alerted as soon as a fish is on the line. The catch can be brought up to the surface within minutes, and any non-target species can be released alive immediately.
This gear has been in an experimental phase for the last 6-7 years. The trials are proving to be successful in terms of reducing bycatch and providing a high-quality product that can fetch higher prices in the market. This gear is very effective at selectively targeting swordfish. In the experimental period between 2011 and 2017, 81 percent of the total catch was swordfish and 94 percent marketable species (meaning that they could be sold and consumed in the market). One hundred percent of the remaining non-marketable bycatch was released alive.
The small scale of the operation is time intensive and the volume of product is low, relative to the drift gillnets. Researchers are now working to trial linked deep-set buoy gear to increase the volume of swordfish caught by the gear in Southern California so it can be more economically viable. Based on the success of both types of buoy gear, NOAA Fisheries plans to issue a limited number of exempted fishing permits in 2018 to interested fishermen in order to further explore the feasibility of including this gear type as part of an authorized commercial fishery harvesting highly migratory species off the U.S. west coast.
Management of the U.S. West Coast swordfish fishery is complicated because swordfish migrate thousands of miles across international boundaries and are fished by many nations. Effective fishery conservation and management requires strong domestic management and cooperation among nations that harvest the stock.
The U.S. West Coast swordfish fishery (large mesh drift gillnet and harpoon) is managed by NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council under the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species. Permits are required to fish for swordfish and all catch must be recorded in logbooks. California large mesh drift gillnet vessels are required to carry observers (trained fishery biologists), as requested by NOAA Fisheries, to record fishing operations, effort, catch, and bycatch. Current observer coverage is about 20 percent. Research is needed to better understand the economic and environmental implications of requiring 100 percent observer coverage in this California fishery (Supplemental NMFS Report 3, PFMC Meeting March 2018). There are also seasonal area closures and gear and operational requirements to minimize bycatch.
All fisheries targeting swordfish in the U.S. are also subject to regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. These regulations are specifically designed to reduce impacts on marine mammals and other protected species, such as sea turtles. They require NOAA Fisheries to examine and address any adverse impacts on these species. In addition, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management Act requires that the fishery minimize bycatch to the extent practical and achieve optimum yield, which is the amount of harvest that provides “the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems.”
The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) manage the Pacific swordfish fishery internationally. NOAA Fisheries domestically implements the international management and conservation measures created by these entities. The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) conducts stock assessments for Pacific swordfish stocks. The U.S. is a member of the ISC.