Pacific Swordfish

The Science

This fish has iconic, blade-like bills that are flat and edged, as opposed to the smoother, rounded bils seen on marlin. [2]

The Fishery

Swordfish was historically fished by the Chumash indigenous peoples of modern-day Santa Barbara area. [7]

The Seafood

Swordfish is a good source of selenium, niacin, vitamin B12, and zinc! [9]

The Science

Person kneeling next to swordfish and holding its dorsal fin and sword-like bill
Harold Fernando Delgadillo Resendiz/iNaturalist

Taxonomic description 

  • Distinguishing features include its sword-like bill, no teeth, crescent-shaped dorsal fins, large eys, crescent-shaped tails, and lack of pelvic fins. [1]
  • Has a dark-colored back that fades to a light underbelly, and has no scales as an adult. [1] 
  • Can grow to a maximum length of 4.55 m (14.75 ft) and can weigh a maximum of 650 kg (1,400 lbs). [1]


  • Highly migratory, and its distribution ranges along the tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters of the globe. [2]
  • Particularly abundant along the North Pacific transition zone near Hawaii, along the western coasts of the U.S. and Mexico, and in the Western Pacific, East of Japan. [2]

Life history 

  • Males live between 9-14 years, and females live for 15-32 years. [3]
  • Males reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years old, females mature at 4-5 years old. Spawning occurs throughout the year in equatorial waters and in spring through summer elsewhere. [3]
  • Females will release batches of near 16 million eggs that can hatch in 2.5 days if fertilized. The larvae will reach juvenile status at 1 year old. [3]


  • Pelagic, usually swims alone and inhabits mixed-surface waters with temperatures greater than 15°C (59°F), and can reside shortly in waters as cool as 5°C (41°F). [2]
  • Has few predators besides large sharks and large toothed whales, and has historically been used by humans as a food source. [1,3]

The Fishery

A fisherman poses with a swordfish on boat deck
Derke Snodgrass/Wikipedia

Seaonal availability 

  • Available year-round, but is highly regulated and subject to fishery closures. [4,5]

Regulatory and managing authority 

  • Ranges across international boundaries, and is managed internationally by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). The International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) collects data on this fishery. [9]
  • Along the Pacific West Coast, this fish is managed by NOAA fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council (established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act) through the West Coast Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Plan. [9]
  • As established by the Marine Life Management Act, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife collects helps manage this fishery through the Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program. [16,17]

Gear type 

  • Caught commercially by drift gillnet, harpoon, and longline. [3]
  • Currently, a new type of gear known as deep-set buoy gear is being explored as an alternative to drift gillnets. [6]

Status of the fishery 

  • The fishery status in the Pacific is uncertain, but Pacific stocks are currently assumed to be healthy and are being fished at levels below maximum sustained yield. [4]
  • Longline fishing is prohibited within 200 miles of the west coast and certain areas alogn the Pacific Islands where Hawaiian monk seals reside. [4]
  • Drift gillnets are allowed in federal waters but not state waters. In 2020, a hard cap rule for bycatch was passed for drift gillnet fisheries in California and Oregon. [4,5]
  • Circle hooks and fin-fish bait is required to minimize catching sea turtles in Hawaiian longline operations. [4]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Gillnets and pelagic longlines have high levels of bycatch with sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals. Bycatch is strictly regulated in the U.S., but bycatch may be a greater problem in countries without bycatch mitigation laws. [3]
  • Harpoon and hook and line fisheries have low bycatch and almost no impact on the ecosystem. [3]

The Seafood

swordfish grilling over a wood fire
Tuna Harbor Dockside Market/Facebook

Edible portions 

  • Typically only the meat is consumed. [10]

Description of meat

  • When raw, the meat ranges in color from white and ivory to pink and orange, and turns beige when cooked. It is firm and has a high oil content. [9]

Culinary uses

  • Swordfish is typially baked, broiled, grilled, sautéed, or smoked. [10]
  • For a grilled swordfish recipe, visit The Mediterranean Fish. [11]
  • For a pan roasted swordfish recipe, visit MasterClass. [18]

Nutritional information 

  • Nutritional information for 100g of cooked swordfish can be found on the table to the right. [8]

Toxicity report

  • Swordfish has higher levels of methyl-mercury, so it is not recommended for pregnant women and young children. [10]

Seasonal availability

  • Available year-round. [9]


[1] Gardieff, S. n.d. Discover fishes: Xiphias gladius. Florida Museum. Web. Accessed 14 July 2020. 

[2] NOAA Fisheries. n.d. Swordfish Research. Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Web. Accessed 14 July 2020. 

[3] Ocean Protection Council. n.d. Swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Web. Accessed 14 July 2020. 

[4] NOAA Fisheries. n.d. North Pacific Swordfish. Web. Accesed 15 July 2020. 

[5] NOAA. 2020. Fisheries off West Coast States; Highly Migratory Fisheries; California Drift Gillnet Fishery; Protected Species Hard Caps for the California/Oregon Large-Mesh Drift Gillnet Fishery. Web. Accessed 15 July 2020.

[6] Roth, A. 2018. Reinventing California's swordfish fishery. UC Santa Cruz science notes. Web. Accessed 15 July 2020. 

[7] Rick, T., Harvey, V.L., Buckley, M. 2019. Collagen fingerprinting and the Chumash billfish fishery, Santa Barbara Channel, California, USA. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11. pp. 6639-6648.

[8] Self. n.d. Fish, swordfish, cooked, dry heat. NutritionData. Web. Accessed 20 July 2020.

[9] Fishwatch. 2019. North Pacific Swordfish. Web. Accessed 24 July 2020. 

[10] Chef's Resources. n.d. Swordfish Flavor Profile. Web. Accessed 24 July 2020. 

[11] Suzy. 2020. Grilled Swordfish Recipe with a Mediterranean Twist. The Mediterranean Dish. Web. Accessed 24 July 2020. 

[12] Joe Fish Flynn. n.d. Catching a Swordfish. Digital image. Web. Accessed 23 December 2020. 

[13] Delgadillo Resendiz, H. iNaturalist. 2016. Digital image. Web. Accessed 24 February 2021. 

[14] Snodgrass, D. 2010. Photo of fisherman posing with swordfish. Wikipedia. Digital image. Web. Accessed 24 July 2020. 

[15] Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. Facebook. 2018. Digital image. Web. Accessed 23 February 2021. 

[16] Marine Life Management Act. n.d. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Web. Accessed 24 August 2020.

[17] Overview of the Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program. n.d. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Web. Accessed 9 December 2020. 

[18] MasterClass. 2020. How to Cook Swordfish: Quick and Easy Pan-Roasted Swordfish Recipe. Web. Accessed 29 January 2021.