Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pelagic Billfish: swordsmen of the seas

While I often place a lot of attention on large pelagic sharks like great whites, there are some other amazing pelagic fish cruising the high seas. Ever seen a swordfish or sailfish up close and personal? These are spectacular, high speed predators that have been known to work in packs to round up schools of potential prey and can reach speeds of up to 68 miles (120km) per hour!

There are groups that organize photo expeditions to see these great beasts. One that is getting a lot of attention of late is Big Animals Photography Expeditions, run by photographer Amos Nauchom.

Unfortunately, billfish populations - particularly swordfish - have been badly decimated by years of commercial fishing. Only a few decades ago , whopping 1000-pounders were common. Today, the average catch is under 100 pounds each. This means sexually immature fish are being caught which adds to their decline by reducing potential breeding capability. The ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna), a consortium of 22 countries, has initiated regulations regarding commercial swordfish catches. But these animals are still very much at that tipping point of possible extinction.

Although I grew up on a weekly serving of swordfish at home, today I shy away from swordfish in restaurants and supermarkets. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program recommends avoiding swordfish that was not caught under U.S. regulated methods. We are losing these animals to indiscriminate longline fishing throughout the world.

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