Vietnam swordfish

Vietnam swordfish

Fishery Improvement Project

Last update: October 2019


Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) [Western and Central North Pacific Ocean stock]

FIP Stage according to CASS Progress Table: 4, The fishery is encouraging improvements.

FIP Rating according to MSC benchmarking tool: Initial (2018): 0.46

Fishery Location: Vietnam Exclusive Economic Zone

FIP Coordination: If you would like more information about the FIP or if you wish to become a member, please contact Stephen Fisher (Sea Delight) or Gabriela Mc Lean (CeDePesca).

Current FIP Participants (open to new memberships):

FIP Documents:

Other references:

Date Publicly Announced: May 2018

Current Improvement Recommendations:

  • To adopt explicit limit or target reference points for the swordfish stocks.
  • To design and adopt a Management Plan for swordfish, including a well-defined harvest control rule.
  • To improve data collection in the fishery.
  • To assess the impacts of the Vietnamese handline fleet over other ecosystem components, such as bycatch species and endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species.
  • To better address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.


Swordfish is a highly migratory species of fish found throughout most of the world’s oceans. Adults are typically found between 15 degrees North and 35 degrees South, while juveniles are more common within tropical and subtropical waters. Migration to more temperate waters occurs as fish mature. This Fishery Improvement Project focuses on the Western and Central North Pacific Ocean (WCNPO) swordfish stock, under the management of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), fished by the Vietnamese handline fishery.

The Vietnamese handline fishery developed in late 2011, and grew dramatically during 2012 when many longline vessels switched to handline. The fishery primarily targets large tunas -such as yellowfin and bigeye- in offshore areas within the Vietnam Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), although swordfish and other large pelagic species are also taken. Handliners attracts fish using bait and lights, with vessels usually operating up to four lines, each with two hooks. The length of a fishing trip is approximately 25 days. There is incomplete information available on the fleet, but possibly close to 1,500 vessels are currently operating (source: MRAG MSC PA citing tuna pre-assessment, 2013).

The fleet of handline and longline vessels has continued to modernise and upgrade technology, but most are still small and not well equipped by Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) industrial standards. Vessels are licensed at provincial level but any management measures are generally imposed at national level; for example, capacity management and operational restrictions.  All fishing currently occurs within the Vietnam EEZ.

All catch is initially landed in Vietnam, with higher quality catch exported as both whole fish and processed product, with the remainder retained for local consumption and processing.

Key problems/issues:

According to the MSC Pre-Assessment of the fishery, the main obstacles to sustainability are:

  • No explicit limit or target reference points are defined by which to manage exploitation of the stock more robustly.
  • There is not a well-defined harvest control rule in place for swordfish, although there are rules and management tools available from other fisheries in the Western Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC) area for reducing catch or effort in the swordfish fishery should critical limits be approached.
  • Currently, there is not sufficient information to rule out the finning of sharks.
  • There is poor information on catches in the fishery.
  • There is little information regarding bycatch and ETP species in the fishery.
  • The fishery management system in Vietnam does not explicitly embody the precautionary approach and certain provisions of conservation and management of the WCPFC need to be addressed by the national legislation.
  • There are no fishery-specific objectives for swordfish at the national level.
  • There is no management plan for the fishery.
  • There are shortcomings in addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the country.

FIP Objectives:

The specific objectives of this FIP are:

  • To adopt explicit limit or target reference points for the swordfish stocks by January 2021.
  • To design and adopt a Management Plan for swordfish, including a well-defined harvest control rule by January 2021.
  • To improve data collection in the fishery by July 2022.
  • To assess the impacts of the Vietnamese handline fleet over other ecosystem components, such as bycatch species and endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species by July 2022.
  • To better address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by January 2021.
  • To achieve an MSC-certifiable status by July 2022.

The FIP Action Plan has been designed to attain the aforementioned objectives.

Progress Update


November – December 2017

In November 2017, MRAG Ltd completed an MSC Pre-Assessment for the Vietnamese Swordfish handline fishery.  Sea Delight shared the MSC Pre-Assessment with CeDePesca to discuss the steps necessary to implement a Fishery Improvement Project.


January – April 2018

Sea Delight and CeDePesca analyzed the MSC Pre-Assessment and identified improvement needs.  A draft Action Plan was designed to address sustainability issues that must be solved for the fishery to attain a certifiable status against the MSC standard.  

Sea Delight decided to open the process to other fishery stakeholders and a period to receive comments on the MSC Pre-Assessment results and the draft Action Plan was set.  Stakeholders interested in becoming part of the FIP are also welcome to approach Sea Delight or CeDePesca to discuss their membership and participation in the project.

May – November 2018

Sea Delight and CeDePesca signed a Framework Agreement (July 2018) and its addendum N1 (October 2018), setting up the guidelines that will orient the implementation of the Vietnam Swordfish Handline FIP as well as the process of including new FIP partners.  In addition, the FIP’s Action Plan and its associated budget have been streamlined. Improvement efforts are to begin in December 2018.

It should be highlighted that Vietnam has issued a mandatory catch certificate that all swordfish/tuna vessels must complete and submit to local D-Fish in order to unload and sell their products.  This certificate is being used to inform WCPFC on catch data. The certificate is being enforced as of October 2018.

December 2018

Sea Delight attended the 2018 Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual meeting as an observer.  A joint request by several stakeholders was submitted to the commission asking for management measures with specific target and limit reference points for North Pacific swordfish.  The letter also highlighted the need for a harvest control rule that takes into account the inherent uncertainty of stock assessments. During the meeting, the Northern Committee made an announcement that a WCPFC Management Strategy for Northern Swordfish has been completed and will be released in 2019.  

With the aim to improve fishery research, fishers in the Khanh Hoa province have been invited to support a new effort to increase data collection on secondary catch in the fishery through their participation in the Volunteer Fishery Monitor (VFM) program that will be set up by this FIP.  The meeting took place on December 25th, and it included the participation of local fishing community members and local authorities.

In addition, Sea Delight and CeDePesca have agreed to work with WWF Vietnam and Thinh Hung Company to encourage vessel captains to volunteer for the planned C-hook program that is sponsored by WWF Hong Kong.


January – March 2019

An Android app called the “Crew Observer Photographic Protocol Application – COPPA” with capability to create a Trip Report document with text and photos and a Google Trip Map has been designed.  The app has been tested successfully in February 2019. At-sea testing is expected to start soon. The programming was completed by IT code writers from the Vietnam Tuna Association (VINATUNA). The app was shared at the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) “Hackathon” in Bangkok in late February.  It is expected that a more polished version for onboard trials will be quickly developed.

April – June 2019

In April 2019, meetings were held with WWF Vietnam and VINATUNA to further discuss collaboration in FIP activities and synergies with the Vietnam Tuna FIP.  

In June 2019, the FIP welcomed Vietnam producer, Hong Ngoc Seafood, as Local FIP partner.  Specific Agreement N°1 formally adopting the FIP Action Plan and welcoming Hong Ngoc Seafood to the FIP was signed on June 12th.  In mid-July, a signing ceremony will take place in Tuy Hoa with attendance of local government officials and other fishery stakeholders.

Regarding the COPPA onboard fishery monitoring program, the first at sea trial took place in Nha Trang, Khan Hoa province, in May.  Some hardware setting issues related to the GPS connection were identified and solved, and two new trial trips have begun in June. The trials now include testing of the new Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) for VINATUNA that are part of the C-hook distribution and research program for the Vietnam tuna FIP.

Also in June, the Vietnam swordfish FIP was presented to fishers and local fishing authorities in Binh Dinh province in collaboration with VINATUNA and WWF Vietnam who also introduced the new free C-hook distribution program for the Vietnam tuna FIP.  Seven vessel operators volunteered to join the COPPA Program in this province, and monitoring will start once the COPPA trial phase is completed.

Regarding traceability, a draft traceability system has been designed and is ready to test in late July.  The system is based on the Vietnam tuna FIP trace code.

July – September 2019

On July 18th, a signing ceremony took place in Tuy Hoa officially welcoming Hong Ngoc Seafood as partner to the FIP.  Among the attendees were fishers, local government officials, and other fishery stakeholders.

From September 3rd to 6th, the 15th regular session of the Northern Committee of the WCPFC took place in Portland, USA.  For this meeting, two letters were sent on behalf of the FIP. The first letter expressed support for the adoption of the harvest strategy for North Pacific Swordfish proposed by the USA; the second letter put forward suggestions to complement the aforementioned proposal.  The suggestions were: (a) set as the fishery management objective the fluctuation of the stock around a target reference point, and require the Scientific Committee to pronounce itself on an appropriate level in 2020; and, (b) assess the status of the North Pacific Swordfish stock against its limit and target reference points at least every two years.  During its meeting, the Northern Committee resolved differences between the delegations of USA, Japan and Taiwan on the proposed harvest strategy, and agreed to adopt it at the next WCPFC annual meeting in December.

On the other hand, FIP partners drafted a suggested roadmap for the development of a management plan for the Vietnam swordfish fishery.  The proposal will be presented to the Vietnam Directorate of Fisheries and other fishery authorities during the next few months.

In relation to the fishery management system, progress has been made by fishing authorities in relation to the vessel monitoring system (VMS), the logbook initiative and the National Plan of Action for Turtles: The Vietnam government is currently testing the VMS that will become mandatory for all tuna vessels as of January 1st, 2020 (it should be noted that swordfish is a secondary catch in that fishery).  The government has also signed the Ports States Agreement and has issued more strict controls to deter IUU fishing (illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing).  The logbook format for all fisheries has been recently improved and is in the process of being implemented in accordance to the new Fisheries Law. In order to contribute in the facilitation of the logbook initiative, the FIP is designing an electronic application. On the other hand, the NPOA for turtles is now in full implementation.

Regarding the COPPA onboard fishery monitoring program, two fishing trips have been successfully completed in Nha Trang (Khan Hoa province) in mid-September.  Fishers recorded all catch events, and reported no issues with the GPS connection. The COPPA app will continue to be fine-tuned to improve photo resolution and to make mapping faster.  Two more fishing trips are expected to end in late October. By the end of 2019, the fishery monitoring program is expected to be expanded to two fishing units per province.

Regarding the C-hook joint effort with the Vietnam Tuna FIP, FIP partners have agreed to work with WWF Vietnam and Thinh Hung Company to encourage vessel captains to volunteer for the planned C-hook program.  Meetings in all 3 provinces have taken place, and more than 100 vessel captains have attended. Fifteen vessels have signed on for actual onboard C-hook trials with detailed voluntary catch-by-gear catch reports.

Regarding traceability, FIP partners had agreed to wait for the results of an audit of the traceability system already put in place for the Vietnam Tuna FIP, before testing the Vietnam swordfish traceability system.  The aforementioned audit took place in August, and VINATUNA (leading the Vietnam Tuna FIP) has now accepted the proposed swordfish traceability system as well. The test of the proposed system for the Vietnam swordfish will be conducted with participation of two Sea Delight suppliers starting in November.  The aim of the system is to help processing plants and stakeholders in ensuring that FIP products that are sold to markets and to final customers are from FIP sources.