All About North Atlantic Swordfish – Facts About Florida Keys Broadbills
The Swordfish is a globally recognizable and iconic species of fish. A member of the billfish family, the Swordfish earns its name due to the flattened bill that looks like a sword protruding from its upper jaw. Most of the iconic fish we feature are known by different names, and the Swordfish is no exception. Swords are referred to by various names, including Broadbill, Emperado, and, scientifically, Xiphias gladius.
No matter the name, the North Atlantic swordfish undoubtedly holds a special place in the world of sportfishing, especially in the Florida Keys.
Main Attraction owners Marty and Katie Lewis holding up a large broadbill Swordfish caught at 1600ft.
What Do Swordfish Look Like?
The North Atlantic Swordfish’s body shape can be easily identified by its sleek and powerful appearance. Swordfish can grow to a massive size of 14 feet long and 1,200 pounds. Their long bills are typically about 40-50% of the length of their body. These flat, wide bills can reach up to 5 feet and used for defense, hunting, and feeding.
How Fast Do Swordfish Swim?
The Swordfish appears as if it was designed to move quickly through the water. By around 3 feet in length, the skin of adult swordfish is smooth because the scales have become deeply embedded within the skin. In fact, we now know that the Swordfish have an oil gland in their heads that allows them to self-lubricate their skin, further reducing friction against the water. (Source) Some claim that the bill of a swordfish helps the fish swim by reducing drag and improving hydrodynamic characteristics. While this might be true at higher speeds, research suggests that the bill of a swordfish and a sailfish has no meaningful impact on drag, at least not at cruising speeds. (Source) These physical characteristics, coupled with scientific mathematical formulas, has suggested for many years that Swordfish are one of the ocean’s fastest predators, capable of reaching speeds of 60mph.
We believe the more conservative claim that Swordfish can burst up to 40mph in the water is closer to reality. We suspect these numbers might even be lower, but we can only guess until research is put forward to disprove the other claims.
While the Swordfish is built for speed, it takes incredible power to move through water which is much denser than air. We also know it is challenging to measure speed in the water. Some research has shown other billfish do not swim as fast as historically claimed (Source), We address this briefly in our Sailfish Facts article, where research has shown the Sailfish (arguably the fastest fish in the sea) swims at 19mph, not 70mph as claimed for many years.
Where Do Swordfish Live?
Swordfish are considered highly migratory and known for their extensive travels searching for food, mating opportunities, and more temperate waters. Swordfish can handle a wide range of temperatures, including temperatures as low as 40º F, because they have special muscle tissue that consists of heater cells. These special cells heat their eyes and brains, allowing them to see better and function at low temperatures. Coping with colder temperatures enables them to swim at depths of over 2,000 feet.
Swordfish are not restricted to the ocean’s depths; being powerful swimmers, they freely roam where they choose. It’s common for a Swordfish to breach the ocean’s surface or even briefly tail-walk. Among the many theories explaining this behavior, some are related to communication, evasion from predators, feeding habits, or the desire to rid themselves of parasites.
What Do Swordfish Eat?
North Atlantic Swordfish are carnivorous predators, feeding on various fish species, squid, and crustaceans. Their impressive speed, agility, and sword-like bill enable them to slash through schools of fish with precision. When hunting, Swordfish use their bill to stun or wound their prey before circling back to consume it. The video below shows Captain Marty Lewis opening up the stomachs of two swordfish he caught with his wife Katie Lewis on her birthday in May of last year. Toward the end of the video you get to see the actual bait they caught one of the swordfish on and where it ended up.
How Do Swordfish Reproduce?
Swordfish live about 9 years. Females can produce millions of eggs between years 4-5. Swordfish have a unique reproductive strategy. Unlike many other fish species, they are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs.
Female Swordfish can carry thousands of developing eggs within their ovaries. Once the male fertilizes the eggs, they hatch inside the female, and she gives birth to live, free-swimming juvenile Swordfish.
This reproductive strategy is thought to provide the young with a better chance of survival, as they are less exposed to potential predators.
What Are The Greatest Threats To Swordfish?
Swordfish’s natural predators include large sharks, such as mako and great white sharks, and larger species of billfish, like Marlin. However, Swordfish are formidable opponents known to fend off or escape from these predators with incredible speed and agility. In 2016, scientists recorded a shark dying on a beach with a 7-inch-long fragment of a Swordfish bill embedded in its brain.
Young Swordfish are prone to being eaten by various predators: Mahi, Tuna, and Sailfish. An Adult Swordfish, however, has fewer predators to worry about. The list is short but scary, Killer Whales, Shortfin Mako, Great White Sharks.
In addition to these formidable natural predators, humans are a considerable threat. Millions of pounds of Swordfish are eaten by humans every year.
Captain Marty Lewis and Daughter Natalie.
What Do Swordfish Taste Like?
The flesh of North Atlantic swordfish is highly prized in culinary circles.
Swordfish has a mild, slightly sweet flavor with a meaty and firm texture. The taste can be likened to a cross between tuna and shark. It’s often described as having a clean, oceanic flavor. The mild taste makes it a versatile seafood choice that can be grilled, broiled, or cooked in various ways to complement different seasonings and sauces.
Swordfish steaks are often marinated or seasoned to enhance their flavor. These qualities are why Swordfish has become a staple in seafood restaurants and households worldwide.
What Conservation Efforts Are Protecting Swordfish?
By the early 2000’s Overfishing was a significant concern for North Atlantic Swordfish populations due to their popularity as game fish and high market demand. Regulatory bodies such as NOAA implemented various conservation measures in response to waning populations.
Regulations such as size and bag limits, closed seasons, and using circle hooks instead of traditional J-hooks have helped protect Swordfish and reduce bycatch. Additionally, international agreements and cooperation have been crucial in managing swordfish stocks in the North Atlantic.
By 2009, reports indicated that the North Atlantic Swordfish was no longer overfished and stocks wholly rebuilt. In 2017, ICCAT declared that North Atlantic Swordfish stocks remain fully rebuilt; great news for anglers and diners who love Swordfish!
For more compliance information when harvesting Swordfish, visit this NOAA resource page for federal regulations and this FWC Resource page for Florida state guidelines.
Note: If you are fishing for Swordfish with one of our crews, you do not need to worry about the regulations; our Captains are very knowledgeable and will be sure to harvest your fish legally or release them with care.
The North Atlantic swordfish is a remarkable species with its striking appearance, impressive physical characteristics, and vital role in marine ecosystems. While facing challenges due to overfishing in the past, implementing conservation measures has helped protect these majestic creatures.
Whether admired for their beauty, studied for their unique features, or savored for their culinary excellence, the North Atlantic swordfish remains a symbol of the wonders of the open ocean.
At Main Attraction, we target Swordfish during the daytime. Traditionally, Swordfish were only targeted at night. However, technological advances in electric reels allow us to reach them at depths over 1,000 feet, where they typically feed during the day.
We do offer Swordfish charters year-round. But whether or not we can target Swordfish on any given day depends highly on the conditions.
As described in our past articles about Swordfish, we need the water to be calm, and the current needs to move at the right speed. This often lends itself to fishing for them in the Summer and Fall.
If you are interested in fishing with the Main Attraction team or have any questions, contact us at (305) 289-0071 or visit our contact page.