Family: Xiphiidae (Swordfishes)
Genus and Species: Xiphias gladius
Range: Swordfish occur worldwide in temperate and tropical seas, known to frequent depths 400 to 500 fathoms, but also seen basking at the surface. The swordfish is primarily a warm-water species and, generally speaking, its migrations consist of movements toward temperate or cold waters for feeding in summer and back to warm waters in autumn for spawning and overwintering. Off southern California, they are most commonly encountered between the mainland and the Channel Islands.
(click image to view anatomy)
Description: The body of the swordfish is elongate and somewhat compressed. The upper jaw is very much extended, forming a long, flat sword. The color is dark gray to black above becoming gray to yellowish below. Swordfish are readily distinguished from other billfish by their flattened bills, lack of fins on the belly, and the presence of only one keel (small projection) on the base of the tail adjoining the fish.
This species lacks teeth and scales.
Natural History: Swordfish are carnivores (meat-eaters). They eat squid, octopus, fish, and crustaceans. Swordfish often kill their prey by swinging their sharp bill from side to side in a school of fish. They then eat the dead and wounded fish. Swordfish do not spawn off the coast of California, but in 1958 a ripe female was harpooned off Santa Catalina Island. It contained an estimated 50 million eggs. In areas like the Mediterranean, where spawning has been studied, some females lay eggs during every month of the year, but the spawning peak is in June and July. The eggs take 2.5 days to hatch. While there is little information available on swordfish age and growth, they probably grow quite rapidly and do not live for a great number of years.
Juvenile fish, especially, like warm water and are found only in tropical regions. Adults have a greater temperature tolerance and range widely over the Pacific, spawning in the tropics and feeding in temperate regions.
Fishing Information: Swordfish are taken from May through November, and occasionally landed in December. The average California recreational fishery take is between 10 and 20 fish per year, but more than 125 fish were landed in 1978, the best year on record. Most recreational fishing for swordfish involves visually searching for a fish that is finning (presenting itself at the surface) and then maneuvering a baited hook in front of it. Live Pacific mackerel or dead squid are the preferred baits, although some anglers use live California barracuda. Once hooked, swordfish are strong and stubborn fighters with average encounters lasting more than 4 hours. Some fish are landed in short time (10 to 15 minutes) because the fish may swim within gaffing distance of the boat early in the battle. Most fish taken off southern California weigh between 100 to 300 pounds. Occasionally, a fish weighing more than 400 pounds is landed.
Swordfish are fished by many Pacific Rim countries, and fishermen use a variety of harvesting methods, including longline, drift gillnet, and harpoon. Japan, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, as well as California, employ gillnets to capture swordfish. Both Japan and Taiwan also operate a Pacific-wide longline fishery for swordfish and tunas.
Temperature Range: 64 - 72 degrees F.
Other Common Names: broadbill, broadbill swordfish.
Largest recorded: 15 feet, 503 pounds (California); 1190 pounds (Chile).
Sources: Marine Sportfish Identification, California Department of Fish and Game, 1987; FishBase, FishBase Consortium, 2014; Billfish, Saltaire Publishing, 1976; Phylogeny of Recent Billfishes (Xiphioidei), Collette, McDowell and Graves, 2006.
Back to Fish Index