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At the end of the 20th century, the North Atlantic swordfish was on its way to being wiped out, the victim of years of overfishing and mismanagement. But a 30-month campaign by NRDC and SeaWeb resulted in new fishing restrictions, and after just a few years under the new regime, North Atlantic swordfish populations recovered to near-healthy levels.

The quick turnaround demonstrated that, for at least some species of fish, reasonable restrictions on commercial fishing practices can overcome the results of years of mismanagement.

The Give Swordfish a Break campaign, launched by NRDC and SeaWeb in early 1998, had two principal objectives:

  • International quota restrictions on the North Atlantic swordfish catch (achieved in 1999).
  • The closure of swordfish nursery areas in U.S. waters to fishing (achieved in 2000).

The campaign marked the first large-scale effort to mobilize consumers in support of fish conservation. It launched with the endorsement of 27 prominent chefs, then quickly enlisted the support of an additional 700 chefs at restaurants around the nation. All supported the "Give Swordfish a Break Pledge," agreeing not to serve the fish in their restaurants.

A number of businesses, including the Peabody Hotel chain, cruise lines, grocery stores, airlines and others, also removed North Atlantic swordfish from their menus. In 2000, with strong recovery measures in place, NRDC and SeaWeb declared victory and ended the campaign. Two years later, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas determined that swordfish had reached 94 percent of full recovery.

In the end, the recovery of the North Atlantic swordfish population is more than just a tale about the protection of a single species. It's also compelling evidence that focused conservation measures can help restore ocean wildlife, an important lesson at a time when so many species are struggling to survive.

last revised 1/2/2009

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