A swordfish is an easily recognizable fish because of the sword-like protrusion from its upper jaw and its crescent shaped rear fins. It is generally gray blue to bronze on top, and pale cream on the bottom.
The flesh of the swordfish is usually served as steaks. It is a popular seafood fare because of its meaty texture and mild flavor. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which is good for the heart.
The swordfish has a stout, fairly rounded body and large eyes. The first dorsal fin (rising from the back of the fish) is tall and crescent-shaped. The second dorsal fin is quite separate from the first and very small. Both are soft-rayed—having thin, bony rods that extend from the base of the fin and support the fin membrane. The anal fins approximate the shape of the dorsal fins, but are noticeably smaller. Ventral fins, found on the underside of fish, are absent. There is a strong, longitudinal keel, or ridge, on either side of the caudal peduncle (the base of the tail where the tail fins project from), which leads to a broad, crescent-shaped tail. Adult swordfish have neither teeth nor scales.
Selecting and Buying
Preparation and Use
Grill lightly with a minimum of spices and a squeeze of citrus. Let sit after cooking for about a minute before serving.
Conserving and Storing
Today, some swordfish are caught as they traditionally were using harpoons, but most are caught on longlines consisting of a main line, up to 40 miles long, which is supported in the water column by floats and from which baited hooks are suspended. In addition, swordfish are often an incidental catch in the tuna fishery.
The sport fishery normally fishes for swordfish by trolling and drift-fishing, using rod-and-reel gear. The catch rate has increased considerably since fishermen began in the mid-1970s to fish for swordfish at night using drifting baited lines.
Once almost unsalable, swordfish meat gained in popularity during World War II and continued through the early 1970s. In 1971, the U.S. and Canadian swordfish fishery was essentially terminated following U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions imposed on the sale of swordfish found to have levels of mercury in the flesh higher than 0.5 parts per million (ppm).
But gradually, the U.S. fishery began to rebound. In 1979, the FDA raised the acceptable mercury level to 1.0 ppm, based, in part, on a National Marine Fisheries Service study, showing that a 1.0 ppm action level would adequately protect consumers. Finally, in 1984, the FDA switched from enforcing the mercury action level based on total mercury concentration to methyl mercury concentration. This change occurred for two reasons: (1) It was determined that methyl mercury was the toxic component of the total mercury concentration, and (2) a test specific for methyl mercury became available. Since then, both catch and fishing effort have been exceedingly high in the Atlantic Ocean, with swordfish meat commanding top prices in the marketplace.