Australia’s Great Swordfish Race Begins

A team of expert swordfish anglers has begun releasing broadbill with pop-off satellite tags as scientists work to learn more about this enigmatic big-game fish

September 7, 2019

In only a few short years, a premier daytime deep-drop fishery for big swordfish has developed off southeastern Australia. Now scientists are working to learn more about those fish, particularly to track their movements. Satellite tags that track movements and behavior have been widely deployed on marlin but less so on swordfish. The knowledge gained in this “great race” is expected to help researchers and fishery managers maximize the potential of this increasingly popular fishery while ensuring its sustainability.

Swordfish off of Australia
The race is on in southeastern Australia — the first-ever Great Swordfish Race is underway. In the joint project of the DPI, Australian National Sportfishing Association and New South Wales Game Fish Association, a small team of swordfish-angling experts have been provided with satellite tags to be placed in broadbill caught along this coast. Ian Osterlich
Tagging a swordfish
In part, the project aims to provide data on the timing and availability of swordfish in eastern Australia waters and determine whether they return to the same grounds seasonally, plus gain insight into release mortality. Early returns from a tag that popped off prematurely (they normally can take up to a year before popping off and surfacing) still provide scientists with insight. For example, the small swordfish remained in 1,300 to at least 2,000 feet of water by day, rising to near the surface at night, a pattern typical of swordfish as they follow bait on its usual diurnal migrations. Chris Cleaver
Satellite tracking data of swordfish
“Swordfish are notoriously difficult to generate good tracks for due to the diving behavior that sees them spend most of their life in the dark,” says Sean Tracey, PhD, of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. Tracey points out that with the fish spending much of their time in low light, track estimation becomes necessary. Even so, some migratory patterns became clear, but also raised questions which will hopefully be better answered as more tags pop off in coming months and years, as larger fish will “compete” to expand the boundaries of long-distance travel. Recreational fishing for swordfish off southeastern Australia and Tasmania has gained great popularity in just a few years as the fishery has developed into one of the world’s prime areas for catching large swordfish. Courtesy The Great Swordfish Race
Tags for swordfish
Over the coming year or so, recreational anglers fishing off the New South Wales coast will continue to place satellite tags in swordfish. The team of scientists will collect and analyze data as it comes in. For updates as well as more information, visit the project at its web site, Facebook page or on Instagram. Courtesy The Great Swordfish Race
The Great Swordfish Race is starting
The Race is On Courtesy The Great Swordfish Race

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