In the 1990s, North Atlantic swordfish stocks were in decline. Largely due to international fishing pressure, the stock size was estimated to be at 58% of optimum levels. It was clear that action was needed to reverse this trend. Scientific experts recommended reduced harvest levels in conjunction with establishing a minimum size. However, action by U.S. fishermen alone would not be enough; implementation by all North Atlantic harvesting nations would be necessary.
In November of 1990, BWFA first participated in the ICCAT forum. ICCAT, a part of the United Nations, is tasked with the international oversight of Atlantic highly migratory species of fish, including swordfish. At this meeting, we took an active position to support a reduction in the allowable catch of North Atlantic swordfish by all harvesters, including the United States. At that time, it was very unusual for a fisheries association to support restrictions affecting their own members. However, BWFA was convinced that this action was necessary to ensure the success of a recovery plan for North Atlantic swordfish.
As work on this goal continued, further reductions in catch were necessary due to non-compliance by some foreign harvesting nations. Once again, BWFA continued to support additional restrictions to be borne by their own members for the greater good of stock recovery. These reductions were substantial and affected many of our members significantly. As a result, some of our members were unable to continue fishing for swordfish profitably and subsequently left the business. While all participants in the U.S. North Atlantic swordfish fishery endured significant hardships, these operations certainly sacrificed much more.
The culmination of these efforts was a ten-year rebuilding plan for North Atlantic swordfish, which was adopted by ICCAT in 1999. Throughout the course of this plan it continued to be fine-tuned to ensure a successful result. In 2009 – a full year ahead of schedule – ICCAT scientists determined that the stock was fully rebuilt, and that the stock size was estimated to be 105% of optimum level.
This important success is fully due to the hard work of concerned parties from many different disciplines and nations. Scientists and fishery managers worked hard to fine-tune regulations. Fishermen from all participating countries made sacrifices to help recover this stock. In the U.S., all participating fishermen made sacrifices to ensure the success of this effort. Most BWFA members, especially those who were forced out of the business, contributed greatly to this achievement. BWFA is proud to have played a leading role in making this important milestone come about.