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CA Swordfish Harpoon Fishery

Current Classification on 2017 LOF

Category III
Estimated Number of Participants 6
Target Species Thresher and shortfin mako shark
Applicable Take Reduction Plans None
Observer Coverage None
Marine Mammal Species/Stocks Killed or Injured None documented

^ Number of participants estimates are based on state and federal fisheries permit data.  The estimated number of participants is expressed in terms of the number of active participants in the fishery, when possible.  If this information is not available, the estimated number of vessels or persons licensed for a particular fishery is provided.  If no recent information is available on the number of participants, then the number from the most recent LOF is used.  NMFS acknowledges that, in some cases, these estimations may be inflating actual effort.  

*Observer coverage levels include the latest information reported in the most current final Stock Assessment Report (SAR)

1 Indicates the stock or species is driving the classification of the fishery 

Note: Current classification based on final LOF, no proposed changes are reflected in this table.

Basis for Current Classification

No documented marine mammal interactions.  


The harpoon fishing season typically begins in May, peaks in July to September, and ends in December, coincident with the annual northwesterly movement of the North Equatorial Countercurrent and during months of calm sea conditions that harpoon fishing generally requires. Fishing usually concentrates in the Southern California Bight (SCB) off San Diego early in the season and shifts to areas as far north as Oregon later in the season, especially in El Niño years. Swordfish are usually sighted basking at the surface of the water in temperatures between 12 to 26 degrees C. In El Niño years, the range of water temperatures where the majority of swordfish sightings occur narrows and favors warmer temperatures between 20 and 22 degrees C. Harpoon is legal gear in California and Oregon, but is not defined as legal gear in Washington.

Gear Description

Harpoon vessels are from 6 m to 26 m (20-87 ft ) in length with a 6 m to 8 m bow plank and hold capacities up to 100 mt (Coan et al. 1998). When a fish is spotted, the plank is positioned above the swordfish and the harpoon thrown from the end of the plank. The fish is stored over ice for the rest of the trip. The hand-held harpoon consists of a 10-16 foot metal and/or wood pole attached to a 2-foot long metal shank and tipped with a 4-inch tethered bronze or iron dart. After harpooning, the handle is pulled free from the dart, and the mainline, marker flag and floats are thrown overboard, leaving the fish to tire itself. The vessel then proceeds to search for and/or harpoon other fish. After the fish is tired, in approximately two hours, the vessel returns to retrieve it.
The harpoon fishery targets swordfish, although small quantities of shark are also landed by harpoon gear, most often common thresher and shortfin mako. There have been infrequent reports of blue, hammerhead (Sphyrna spp), soupfin (Galeorhinus zyopterus), and white (Carcharodon carcharias) sharks being recorded as taken with harpoon gear


A state permit and logbook are required to participate in the harpoon fishery in addition to a general resident or non-resident commercial fishing license and a current CDFG vessel registration. Additionally, the HMS FMP requires a federal permit with a harpoon gear endorsement for all U.S. vessels that fish for HMS within the West Coast EEZ and for U.S. vessels that pursue HMS on the high seas (seaward of the EEZ) and land their catch in California, Oregon, or Washington.


Historical Information

Original Category (Year added to the LOF) III (1996)
Original Number of Participants 228
Basis for Original Classification No documented interactions
Past Names N/A
Species/stocks historically documented as killed or injured (but not currently on the list) N/A


Timeline of Changes

  • Estimated number of participants decreased from 30 to 6.


Updated: January 14, 2017