Industry members blame the coronavirus pandemic for stomping on the market for swordfish caught in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Historically, the lion’s share of the swordfish catch has been sold to restaurants, but with most eateries either closed or operating at limited capacity, “this year is worse than it’s ever been,” according to Scott Taylor, operator of Day Boat Seafood in Fort Pierce, Fla.
Taylor says boat prices are hovering as low as 70 cents per pound from lack of domestic demand and over-production by Canadian fishermen, who he claims are harvesting swords they can’t sell.
“It’s getting worse week to week,” Taylor says. “There’s no place to go with the fish. They’re dumping the fish on us, and the U.S. isn’t doing anything about it. Nobody is interested in the fishery. I have 14 boats and nine are sitting at the dock. I’m not letting my boats catch any swordfish. I can’t sell fish at those prices.”
According to NMFS’ commercial landings estimates, U.S. fishermen harvested a little more than 408 metric tons (dressed weight) of swordfish between January and July. That’s about 31 percent of the federal quota of roughly 1,319 metric tons.
In the same period last year, the harvest was about 462 metric tons. But Taylor believes only about 20 percent of the annual quota will end up being landed by year’s end.
Pompano Beach, Fla., swordfisherman Cappy Cheshier, who operates three buoy-gear boats, says he’s down to fishing only one boat.
“There’s really no market for the swordfish right now,” Cheshier says. “The market is getting hit hard by the coronavirus. So far swordfish (catch) numbers are down. It doesn’t seem like the swords are in the Florida Straits right now.”
He says he recently caught some swords in the gulf well offshore of Naples, Fla.
“But we can’t afford to do a 20-mile run. No way can we do a 120-mile run,” Cheshier says. He says he’s lucky to get $4.50 per pound for swords over 100 pounds and has begun diving for lobster to generate income.