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Swordfish as Seafood

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Swordfish is a popular seafood choice!

Americans like swordfish. Consumption of swordfish in the U.S. has hovered between 33 million pounds and 55 million pounds since 2004. Imported sources provide the majority of the swordfish Americans consume, about 80 percent by weight (Helvey et al 2017). Ecuador provides the largest share of swordfish by weight to the U.S. market, accounting for more than 50 percent of the total (NOAA Fisheries Statistics and Economics Division).

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Helvey et al 2017. Can the United States have its fish and eat it too?

California swordfish is available at restaurants and retailers throughout Southern California, primarily during peak season (September - January). Most of the swordfish caught in California stays in the state.

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Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

Transfer Effects

The U.S. has strict regulations to control the levels of bycatch allowed by domestic fishermen. These restrictions, along with other factors, have reduced the volume of swordfish U.S. fishermen supply to the domestic seafood market since peak landings in the 1980s. When U.S. fishing activity is restricted to reduce bycatch, the demand for the product does not go away. Instead, consumers rely more on imports to meet the demand. However, fishermen in many countries are subject to less stringent regulations and bycatch restrictions than U.S. fishermen.

Studies have shown that this shift in supply from well-managed U.S. fisheries to foreign fisheries that may or may not adhere to similar bycatch restrictions can actually increase bycatch globally. This process is called a ‘transfer effect.’ The concept of transfer effects is not new. It has been studied in the context of agriculture and timber for years.

On California’s side of the Pacific, a 2017 study assessed, among other things, the impacts of the time-area closure of the Pacific Leatherback Conservation Area (Helvey et al 2017). They found that the closure area resulted in increased imports of swordfish from other Pacific nations and estimated that it increased the level of bycatch in foreign fisheries by 1,457 endangered turtles over the 2001-2010 period, compared to the 45 turtles that were modeled to have been affected if the area remained open to fishermen operating under stringent U.S. regulations.

Workshop Report - Transfer Effect Research: Understanding True Conservation Costs and Benefits in a Globalized Economy
Participants at a 2016 workshop hosted by Environmental Defense Fund and the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management agreed that there is value in U.S. fishery/seafood policy leaders considering transfer effects as a potential outcome of conservation policies involving species that are internationally managed. They also agreed that stronger international and cross-sector collaboration and additional research is needed to better understand transfer effects and how they can impact conservation in a globalized economy.

Read the full report here.

Transfer Effects Report cover