Press release from The National Marine Aquarium
4th July 2008
Endangered Swordfish found on South Wales Beach
A rare and endangered swordfish has
been discovered dead on a South Wales beach.
On Thursday morning (3rd July 2008) the body of
a large fish was found washed up on Barry
Island beach, Vale of Glamorgan, South
Wales. It was a torpedo-shaped
fish over six foot long with a long snout, a crescent tail and curved back
fin. It was obviously a “billfish” one
of the group containing swordfish and marlins.
Colin Smith of the Vale of Glamorgan Council was soon on to it and
contacted the Marine Conservation Society.
They in turn put him on to Doug Herdson at the National Marine Aquarium
in Plymouth, who manages the UK
Marine Fish Recording Scheme. The
records show that while swordfish are rare, they do turn up from time to time
in the waters around the British Isles; but there have
only ever been three marlins found in the UK.
Photographs of the fish were sent
to Plymouth and from these it was
possible to identify it as a Swordfish Xiphias
gladius (“Pysgodyn cleddyf” in Welsh) as expected. The fish has since been taken to the National
Museum Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru) where it will enter the national
collection. On arrival, it was carefully
examined by Dr Peter Howlett, the
Curator of Lower Vertebrates, who confirmed the identification and found it to
be a young specimen 2.24 metres long and between 60 and 80 kg in weight. It had been dead only a few days, but it had
been scavenged by other creatures and it was not possible to determine the
cause of death.
Swordfish can grow to 4.6 metres
(16 ft) and weigh over 600 kg, so this one was a tiddler in global terms. They are often called a Broad-billed
Swordfish, but there is only one species in the world. They are found throughout the tropical and
temperate waters of the world but appear to prefer sea temperatures of 18°C to
22°C, migrating to cooler waters to feed in the summer. These oceanic fish chase herring and mackerel
and are among the fastest fish reaching 90 km.h-1 (56 m.p.h.). This is in part due to their being
warm-blooded, which allows not only their muscles but also their brain and eyes
to work more efficiently.
By 1998 the swordfish population of
the North Atlantic was thought to have declined, due to
overfishing, to only 35% of its original size.
Once mature a female can produce 30 million eggs each year, giving the
stock the capability of rapid recovery.
However the females do not mature until they reach 70 kg, and the
average size now landed is a mere 40 kg.
When the population was first commercially targeted in the early
nineteenth century the average fish landed weighed over 200 kg. Such a decline is a classic feature of
overfishing. Drastic fisheries control
measures are now in force for swordfish in the North West Atlantic, but is
disputed as to how effective these have been and it is claimed that the stock
is still at only half the level of a sustainable population.
Unfortunately, with stocks at these
levels swordfish steak must now be on the ”fish to avoid” list. It is to be hoped that effective fisheries
management can be enforced in both the West and the East North Atlantic so that
we can once again enjoy this delightful fish, both in the wild and on the
the swordfish have probably decline even more, but they are still caught in the
Mediterranean and Atlantic. Vessels fishing for tuna in the Bay
of Biscay and to the south and west of Ireland
occasionally catch swordfish which are sometimes landed at Newlyn, in Cornwall.
They do occur as far north as Sweden,
and there are scattered records of swordfish around Britain
since the first one at Margate in
1841. There are few Scottish records
with only four or five in the twentieth century. They are probably commonest on the south and
west coasts, but do turn up in the North Sea. Records held by the National Marine Aquarium
show that in 2006 one was photographed near Teignmouth, in Devon
and another seen leaping off Dorset, while a small (26
kg) one was caught off the Northumberland; while in August 2007 an even smaller
one was caught south of the Lizard.
The first swordfish in Wales
was off Newport back in 1905; while
in 2003 one was stranded at Rhossili on the Gower, despite efforts to rescue it
, it died an hour later. So the present
fish is the third that Mr Herdson has details of in Wales,
the National Marine Aquarium would welcome any other reports.
Information Officer at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, said
“We have phenomenal life thriving in the seas around the Britain, some of
the richest areas being off the Welsh coast, west of Scotland and the
South West. It is great that fish like
the swordfish and sunfish are being seen along with the turtles, dolphins and
basking sharks. We have wonderful marine
biodiversity and must celebrate and protect it.”
The UK Marine Fish Recording Scheme welcomes reports of any unusual marine
or estuarine fish seen around the British Isles;
‘phone 01752 275216 or email email@example.com.
Douglas Herdson, Information Officer,
Coxside, Plymouth PL4 0LF, UK
(+44)01752 275216/01752 600301
inspire everyone to enjoy, learn and care about our Oceans through amazing,
Or – Nadine
Simpson, Marketing, 01752 275210 Nadine.Simpson@national-aquarium.co.uk