Istiophorus platypterus 

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Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Perciformes Istiophoridae

Scientific Name: Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw, 1792)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Sailfish
French Empereur Éventail, Espadon Voilier
Spanish Aguja de Abanico , Pez Velo, Picudo Banderón
Histiophorus americanus Cuvier,1832
Histiophorus ancipitirostris Cuvier, 1832
Histiophorus dubius Bleeker, 1872
Histiophorus gracilirostris Cuvier, 1832
Histiophorus granulifer Castelnau, 1861
Histiophorus immaculatus Rüppell, 1830
Histiophorus indicus Cuvier, 1832
Histiophorus magnioci Jordan, 1927
Histiophorus orientalis Temminck & Schlegel, 1844
Histiophorus pulchellus Cuvier, 1832
Istiophorus amarui Curtiss, 1944
Istiophorus brookei Fowler, 1933
Istiophorus eriquius Jordan, 1926
Istiophorus gladifer Lacepède, 1801
Istiophorus greyi Jordan & Evermann, 1926
Istiophorus japonicus Jordan & Thompson, 1914
Istiophorus ludibundus Whitley, 1933
Istiophorus maguirei Jordan & Evermann, 1926
Istiophorus triactis Klunzinger, 1871
Istiophorus wrighti Jordan & Evermann, 1926
Makaira albicans Latreille, 1804
Makaira velifera Cuvier, 1832
Scomber gladius Bloch, 1793
Skeponopodus guebucu Nardo, 1833
Xiphias platypterus Shaw, 1792
Xiphias velifer Bloch & Schneider, 1801
Taxonomic Notes: There is no genetic evidence in the mtDNA control region to indicate that the Atlantic (Istiophorus albicans) and Indo-Pacific (Istiophorus platypterus) Sailfishes are separate species (Collette et al. 2006). However, there are two distinct mtDNA clades, both evident in the Atlantic while only one is found in the Indo-Pacific. There is also no difference in pectoral fin length or in any other morphometric or meristic characters between Atlantic and Indo-Pacific populations of sailfish (Morrow and Harbo 1969, McDowell 2002). Populations of the Indo-Pacific Sailfishes and the Atlantic Sailfishes are conspecific (McDowell 2002, Collette et al. 2006).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2011
Date Assessed: 2010-09-16
Assessor(s): Collette, B., Acero, A., Amorim, A.F., Boustany, A., Canales Ramirez, C., Cardenas, G., Carpenter, K.E., de Oliveira Leite Jr., N., Di Natale, A., Die, D., Fox, W., Fredou, F.L., Graves, J., Guzman-Mora, A., Viera Hazin, F.H., Hinton, M., Juan Jorda, M., Minte Vera, C., Miyabe, N., Montano Cruz, R., Nelson, R., Oxenford, H., Restrepo, V., Salas, E., Schaefer, K., Schratwieser, J., Serra, R., Sun, C., Teixeira Lessa, R.P., Pires Ferreira Travassos, P.E., Uozumi, Y. & Yanez, E.
Reviewer(s): Russell, B., Elfes, C. & Polidoro, B.
This species is widespread in the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific, and is common. It is primarily caught in sport and artisanal fisheries, and as bycatch in long-line and purse seines. There have been some localized declines, such as in Central America and in Iran and India, but there are no stock assessments, and landings and effort data are not reliable as catch statistics for this species are generally aggregated with other species. However, there is not currently any indication of widespread decline. It is therefore listed as Least Concern. Better reporting of catch and effort is needed to adequately assess this species population especially in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
For further information about this species, see TUNAS_SkiJumpEffect.pdf.
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Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:In the Indian and Pacific oceans, this species occurs between approximately 45.5°N and 40.35°S in the western Pacific, 35°N and 35°S in the eastern Pacific, 45°S in the western Indian Ocean and 35°S in eastern Indian Ocean.

In the Eastern Pacific, this species is found from southern California and the lower three-fourths of the Gulf of California to Peru, including all of the oceanic islands.

This species is found in tropical and temperate waters approximately 40°N in the northwest Atlantic, 50°N in the northeast Atlantic, 40°S in the southwest Atlantic, and 32°S in the southeast Atlantic. It has entered the Mediterranean Sea from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal.

In both the eastern tropical Pacific and the eastern tropical Atlantic, sailfish concentrate in shallower waters than in the western part of both oceans due to hypoxia-based habitat compression over oxygen minimum zones in the eastern tropical seas (Prince et al. 2010).
Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; American Samoa; Angola; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Australia; Bahamas; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belize; Benin; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Brazil; British Indian Ocean Territory; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada; Cape Verde; Cayman Islands; Chile (Easter Is.); China; Christmas Island; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; Colombia; Comoros; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Cook Islands; Costa Rica; Côte d'Ivoire; Croatia; Cuba; Curaçao; Cyprus; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador (Galápagos); Egypt; El Salvador; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Fiji; France (Clipperton I.); French Guiana; French Polynesia; French Southern Territories (Crozet Is.); Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Greece; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guam; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong; India (Andaman Is.); Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Israel; Italy; Jamaica; Japan; Jordan; Kenya; Kiribati; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait; Lebanon; Liberia; Libya; Macao; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives; Malta; Marshall Islands; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mayotte; Mexico; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Monaco; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Nauru; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Niue; Norfolk Island; Northern Mariana Islands; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Pitcairn; Portugal (Azores, Madeira); Puerto Rico; Qatar; Réunion; Russian Federation; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Sao Tomé and Principe; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa; Spain (Canary Is.); Sri Lanka; Sudan; Suriname; Syrian Arab Republic; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Togo; Tokelau; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; Tunisia; Turkey; Turks and Caicos Islands; Tuvalu; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States (Hawaiian Is.); United States Minor Outlying Islands (Howland-Baker Is., Johnston I., US Line Is., Wake Is.); Uruguay; Vanuatu; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Viet Nam; Virgin Islands, British; Virgin Islands, U.S.; Wallis and Futuna; Western Sahara; Yemen
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – northwest; Atlantic – western central; Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – Antarctic; Mediterranean and Black Sea; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – southeast; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – western central
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):40
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Sailfish are divided into stocks of the Western Atlantic, Eastern Atlantic, Eastern Pacific, Western Central Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Atlantic Ocean
There are two stocks of Sailfish in the Atlantic: one in the western Atlantic, and one in the eastern Atlantic. There is considerable uncertainty regarding the status of Atlantic Sailfish stocks, but most models present clear evidence of overfishing and that stocks are overfished, more in the east than in the west. The eastern stock is more productive than the western, probably providing greater maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The eastern stock is probably suffering stronger overfishing and has been reduced further below the level that would produce MSY than the western stock. Both eastern and western stocks suffered greatest declines prior to 1990. Since 1990, trends in relative abundance conflict between different indices, with some indices suggesting declines, other increases, and others not showing a trend. Examination of length frequencies do not show changes in the average length or length distribution  (ICCAT 2009).

Using combined indices of relative abundance (Table 9, ICCAT 2009), both eastern and western Atlantic Sailfish stocks appear to be stable or increasing over the three generation length period (13 years). The combined indices were chosen over the biomass indices, as the population models which estimated biomass were not considered to be a good fit to the available data. Overall, there is data uncertainty, but the combined indices suggest no strong changes over the length of period examined. The greatest declines in Atlantic Sailfish occurred prior to the three generation lengths.

Eastern Pacific Ocean
There has been no effort to assess the status of Sailfish or Spearfish species in a comprehensive manner in the Pacific. There has been no stock assessment for the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP). Catches have been fairly stable over the past 10–25 years at around 2,000 mts, however catches are likely higher than reported given that they are grouped in billfishes. There has not been any real directed fishing for this species recently. It is a very important sportfish in the ETP. There are some indications of localized declines. Overall Sailfish abundance is 80% below the 1964 levels in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama (Erhart and Fitchett 2006). Trophy fish sizes are 35% smaller than unexploited sizes (Erhard and Fitchett 2006).

Western Central Pacific
Data for sailfish are not routinely recorded, however, it is inferred that no significant declines are occurring.

Indian Ocean
In the Indian Ocean, Sailfish landings are sometimes combined with other billfish species. The landing information on Marlins and Sailfish for the whole Pacific Ocean is not available, except for the FAO statistics which are not informative as the species are reported as a mixed group. There have been reports of decline in sailfish in India and Iran (IOTC 2009), but no information is available on effort. Catches in the Indian Ocean are generally thought to be increasing.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This oceanic and epipelagic species is usually found above the thermocline to depths of 40 m. It is most densely distributed in waters close to coasts and islands. This species occasionally forms schools or smaller groups of 3–30 individuals but often occurs in loose aggregations over a wide area. It most likely schools by size. This species undergoes spawning migrations in the Pacific (Nakamura 1985), and feeds mainly on fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods.

Appears to spawn throughout the year in tropical and subtropical waters of the Pacific with peak spawning occurring in the respective local summer seasons. Spawning occurs with males and females swimming in pairs or with two or three males chasing a single female (probably a mating behaviour). Around Florida in the USA, this species often moves inshore into shallow waters where females, swimming sluggishly with their dorsal fins extended and accompanied each by one or more males, may spawn near the surface in the warm season. However, spawning in offshore waters beyond the 100 fathom isobath was also reported from south of Cuba to Carolina, USA. Off southeast Florida, a 33.4 kg female may shed up to 4.8 million eggs in three batches during one spawning season.

This species has a fast growth rate. Using the best available data, longevity is estimated to be 13 years and age of maturity 2.5 years (Prince et al. 1986, Ortiz et al. 2003, IUCN SSC Tuna and Billfishes Specialist Group). No external sexual dimorphism, but females grow larger than males. Fecundity increases sharply with size of the female (Nakamura 1985, de Sylva and Breder 1997, Richards and Luthy 2005, Chiang et al. 2006, Wang et al. 2006). Using a longevity of 13 years and age of maturity of 2.5 years, the generation length was estimated to be 4.3 years. The generation length is calculated as: age of first reproduction + z * (longevity - age of first maturity), where z is 0.15 (Collette et al. 2011).

Sailfish grow larger in the Pacific than in the Atlantic. The all-tackle game fish record in the Pacific is of a 100.24 kg fish caught off Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador in 1947 while the largest sailfish from the Atlantic was only 64 kg and was caught off Luanda, Angola in 1994 (IGFA 2011).
Generation Length (years):4.3
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is mainly caught as bycatch, but also targeted in some fisheries.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This is a commercial fish that is also caught as bycatch in the global long-line tuna fishery. It is also accidentally caught by commercial fishermen with surface drift nets by trolling, harpooning and set netting. It is most important as a sports fish. The flesh is dark red and not as good as that of marlin. Sport fishing could pose a potential threat locally, especially as this species is found primarily near shore and around islands.

The greatest catch rates in the world for sailfish occur in the Eastern Pacific ocean off Central America where this species supports multi-million dollar sport fisheries (catch and release) (Erhart and Fitchett 2006). In the national long-line fisheries in Costa Rica, many of the fishes are discarded as the fisheries are only allowed to bring in 15% of the catch as sailfish, so that catch are likely under reported. Costa Rica dominates the catch in the Eastern Pacific. Recent catch per unit effort (CPUE) data from the recreational fishery off of Central America has generated cause for concern (Kitchell et al. 2004).

In the Atlantic, this species is taken primarily by longline fisheries, but also by purse seines, and by some artisanal gears which are the only fisheries targeting marlins (Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire) and also by various sport fisheries located on both sides of the Atlantic. The increasing use of anchored fish aggregating devices (FADs) by various artisanal and sport fisheries is increasing the vulnerability of these stocks. Many assessment model results show evidence of overfishing, more so in the eastern than in the western Atlantic stocks (STECF 2009).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: This is a highly migratory species is listed in Annex I of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea (FAO Fisheries Department 1994).

Size limitations, encouragement of catch-and-release sport fishing, and recommendations for using circle hooks instead of J-hooks are measures designed to increase survival in catch-and-release sport fishing (Serafy et al. 2009). In some areas long-lining is restricted to protect populations of billfishes for sports fishermen. The sports fisheries have mostly developed catch and release programmes rather than keeping the fish. In Costa Rica, Sailfish cannot be targeted in commercial fisheries and can only be landed as bycatch. Only 15% of catches are allowed to be sailfish, so some of the fish are discarded and the catch is likely under reported.

The catch of Sailfish by Japan, Korea, and Taiwan include the catch of Spearfish, though species-specific catch data are beginning to be collected in the Japanese longline fishery. It is probable that there may be other source of bias in landing information. It is necessary to review and check the catch of billfish country by country in detail (Uozumi 1999).

In the Atlantic, the International Commission fr the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (ICCAT-SCRS) in 2009 recommended that catches for the eastern stock should be reduced from current levels. The Committee recommended that catches of the western stock of sailfish should not exceed current levels. Any reduction in catch in the West Atlantic is likely to help stock re-growth and reduce the likelihood that the stock is overfished. Artisanal fishermen harvest a large part of the sailfish catch of the western sailfish stock. The ICCAT-SCRS is concerned about the incomplete reporting of Sailfish catches, particularly for the most recent years, because it increases uncertainty in stock status determination. The ICCAT-SCRS recommends all countries landing or having dead discards of Sailfish, report these data to the ICCAT Secretariat (ICCAT 2009).

No ICCAT regulations for Sailfish are in effect, however, some countries have established domestic regulations to limit the catch of Sailfish. Among these regulations are, requirement of releasing all billfish from longline vessels, adoption of circle hooks, and catch and release strategies in sport fisheries (ICCAT 2009). Regulations for the U.S., Bahamas and Bermuda include no commercial sale. The Mexican government allows Sailfish to be taken only with sport fishing gear (de Guevara et al. 2011).

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.2. Harvest level trends

♦  Food - human
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Sport hunting/specimen collecting
 National : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Beardsley, G.L., N.R. Merrett, and W.J. Richards. 1975. Synopsis of the biology of the sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw and Nodder, 1791). NOAA Tech. Rep. NMFS SSRF 675(3): 95-120.

Chiang, W.C., Sun, C.L., Wang, S.P., Yeh, S.Z., Chen, Y., Su, W.C., Liu, D.C., Chen, W.Y. 2009. Analysis of sex-specific spawning biomass per recruit of the sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) in the waters off eastern Taiwan. Fish. Bull. 107(3): 265-277.

Chiang W-C, Sun C-L, Yeh S-Z, Su W-C, Liu D-C, Chen W-Y. 2006. Sex ratios, size at sexual maturity, and spawning season seasonality of sailfish Istiophorus platypterus from eastern Taiwan. Bulletin of Marine Science 3: 985-994.

Collette, B.B. 2010. Reproduction and Development in Epipelagic Fishes. In: Cole, K.S. (ed.), Reproduction and sexuality in marine fishes: patterns and processes, pp. 21-63. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Collette, B.B., Carpenter, K.E., Polidoro, B.A., Juan-Jorda, M.J., Boustany, A., Die, D.J., Elfes, C., Fox, W., Graves, J., Harrison, L., McManus, R., Minte-Vera, C., Nelson, R., Restrepo, V., Schratwieser, J., Sun, C-L, Brick Peres, M., Canales, C., Cardenas, G., Chang, S.-K., Chiang, W-C, de Oliveira Leite, N., Harwell, H., Lessa, R., Fredou, F.L., Oxenford, H.A., Serra, R., Shao, K.-T., Sumalia, R., Wang, S-P, Watson, R. and Yanez, E. 2011. High value and long life: Double jeopardy for tunas and billfishes. Science 333: 291-292.

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De Guevara, G.C-L., Morales-Bojorquiez, E. and Rodriguez-Sanchez, R. 2011. Age and growth of the sailfish Istiophorus platypterus (Istiophoridae) in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico. Mar. Biol. Res. 7: 488-499.

de Sylva, D.P. and P.R. Breder. 1997. Reproduction, gonad histology, and spawning cycles of North Atlantic billfishes (Istiophoridae). Bull. Mar. Sci. 60(3): 668-697.

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Citation: Collette, B., Acero, A., Amorim, A.F., Boustany, A., Canales Ramirez, C., Cardenas, G., Carpenter, K.E., de Oliveira Leite Jr., N., Di Natale, A., Die, D., Fox, W., Fredou, F.L., Graves, J., Guzman-Mora, A., Viera Hazin, F.H., Hinton, M., Juan Jorda, M., Minte Vera, C., Miyabe, N., Montano Cruz, R., Nelson, R., Oxenford, H., Restrepo, V., Salas, E., Schaefer, K., Schratwieser, J., Serra, R., Sun, C., Teixeira Lessa, R.P., Pires Ferreira Travassos, P.E., Uozumi, Y. & Yanez, E. 2011. Istiophorus platypterus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T170338A6754507. . Downloaded on 21 September 2017.
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