Are Sailfish Endangered? [Explained]

No, sailfish are not endangered species. In spite of their impressive physical abilities, sailfish face a variety of threats to their survival. Climate change, habitat loss, and overfishing are all major threats to sailfish populations. Also, bycatch from commercial fishing operations can cause a significant decline.

Environmental issues are becoming more pressing, and sailfish are among the species listed as endangered. However, with increasing threats to their habitats and dwindling populations, the future of sailfish is uncertain.

As part of this article, I’ll explore the sailfish populations’ current status and the reasons behind their decline. Further, I examine the ways in which these fascinating animals can be protected for future generations. Let’s dive.

Are Sailfish an Endangered Species?

I already answered that sailfish are not endangered species. They are considered iconic species that inhabit warm ocean waters. Also, they are highly sought after as prized game fish. 


Unfortunately, sailfish populations have declined dramatically in the past few decades, leading to the species being listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In fact, scientists discovered mercury inside sailfish fin tips in 1972. This discovery led to sailfish being caught and killed for their mercury. Later, researchers predict that, by 2018, the population will return to normal.

Afterward, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), sailfish are currently categorized as a species of ‘Least Concern’. 

That means their populations are considered to be critically threatened. They face several threats that could impact their populations in the future.

However, here are some of the reasons why sailfish may be at risk:

  • Fishing too much

Sailfish are a popular game fish and are also caught as bycatch in commercial fishing operations. Overfishing can lead to declines in sailfish populations, which can negatively impact the health of the ecosystem as a whole.

  • Degradation of habitat

Sailfish rely on healthy ocean habitats to survive, and the destruction or degradation of these habitats can negatively affect their populations.

  • Effect of global warming

Changes in ocean temperature and chemistry can impact food availability and suitable breeding grounds for sailfish, impacting their reproductive success and survival.

  • Pollution

Pollution in the ocean, including plastic debris, oil spills, and chemical pollutants, can negatively affect the health of sailfish and their habitats.

  • Illegal fishing

 Sailfish are often targeted by illegal fishing operations, which can negatively impact their populations and the health of the ecosystem as a whole.

  • Poor management

In some areas, fishing practices may not be well regulated or managed, which can lead to overfishing or other negative impacts on sailfish populations.

  • Natural predators

Sailfish may be preyed upon by larger fish, sharks, or other marine predators, which can impact their numbers.

  • Limited range

There are only a few thousand sailfish in the world, found only in tropical and subtropical waters. Changes in ocean temperature and chemistry could potentially impact their ability to survive in these areas.

  • Limited genetic diversity
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 Sailfish populations may be limited in genetic diversity, impacting their ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Moreover, monitoring and addressing these and other potential threats to sailfish populations ensures their continued health and survival in the wild. By protecting sailfish and their habitats, I can help ensure they continue to thrive for generations.


Are Atlantic Sailfish Threatened?

The answer is true indeed! Generally, the Atlantic sailfish, Istiophorus albicans, is a fish species found in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite its stunning characteristics, the Atlantic sailfish population faces several threats that may lead to its decline.

Therefore, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed this species as vulnerable, with a high vulnerability to extinction estimated at 65% out of 100%.

One of the main threats to the Atlantic sailfish population is fishing without any limitations. Even so, they are often caught, as in the catch of global longline tuna fish. Additionally, commercial fishermen accidentally catch them with surface drift nets, trolling, harpooning, and set nets.

As artisanal and sport fisheries use anchored fish aggregating devices (FADs) more often, their stocks are becoming more vulnerable. Aside from sport fishing, this species is also found mainly nearshore and around islands, which could present a threat locally in the Atlantic.

In fact, Costa Rica’s longline fisheries have the world’s highest non-catch and release sailfish catch rates. Purse seines and some artisanal gear are also used to catch marlin and sailfish populations.

There is, however, evidence of overfishing in the Atlantic sailfish population, resulting in reduced stock sizes. 

So, it is vital to monitor the status of the Atlantic sailfish and take measures to mitigate threats to its population to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of the species.

Special Concern:  Better fisheries management and reducing the use of FADs could help reduce the number of sailfish caught as bycatch. Additionally, catch-and-release sport fishing and implementing regulations on the harvest of sailfish could help conserve the species.

Assessing Florida’s Sailfish Population

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) completed its first official stock assessment in 2009. The first stock assessment identified two distinct stocks: the eastern and western populations.

Following that, the western stock, with which Florida anglers intend to fish, was discovered to be overfished and overfishing. The most recent study, which was done in 2016, says that the number of sailfish in the Atlantic Ocean dropped the most before 1990. 

Sailfish populations in the western Atlantic have fluctuated since then, with total catches declining in recent years, pointing to uncertain health for the species.

Furthermore, in the Billfish Foundation’s global database, there are over 17,700 sailfish, the majority of which were released with tags, indicating a fluctuating population.

Below, I’ll present a table showing all sailfish records in the selected Florida area.  From 1990 to 2003, showing a decline in taggings in the late 1990s, and they did not rebound until 2004.

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Data on Florida’s Sailfish Population

YearNumber of sailfish encounters in Florida area

The ICCAT advises against increasing western sailfish captures, saying that doing so would aid in the stock’s recovery. Sailfish in the Atlantic have no defined international rules.

In addition, the United States has implemented domestic restrictions to sustainably control the sailfish population within its borders. As a strategy to aid the western Atlantic sailfish population, anglers should release all sailfish to maximize their chances of survival.

Also, reporting catches can help people worldwide learn more about Florida sailfish and billfish.


Historical Demography of Sailfish

Sailfish is a species of fish known to humans for thousands of years. Although sailfish have no specific historical demography, they have been important to human societies.

Despite this, recent studies indicate that the species is overfished in U.S. waters. Researchers have conducted genetic analyses using mitochondrial control regions better to understand this species’ genetic variability and population structure.

There was no evidence of transatlantic differentiation in the study. That means the Atlantic sailfish do not share a common gene pool with those in the Pacific Ocean. However, Eastern Atlantic sailfish display a greater degree of genetic variation. It needs further investigation to determine its nature.

Apart from that, there was also evidence of a sudden expansion of Clade I sailfish into the Atlantic between 164,000 and 351,000 years ago. During the Pleistocene, these periods corresponded to interglacial terms.

Additionally, 85,400-173,000 years ago, sailfish spread suddenly into the eastern Pacific. They were following a period of cooling in the eastern Pacific, which limited sailfish to the western Indo-Pacific.

Because of its phenotypic distinctiveness from other populations, the eastern Pacific sailfish population warrants further research. In order to maintain sailfish health and sustainability, it is crucial that sailfish populations be managed locally.

Ultimately, implementing effective management strategies requires understanding sailfish genetic variability and population structure.

For sailfish populations to be protected for future generations, conservation efforts need to increase. Plus, sustainable management practices need to be implemented in order to mitigate biomass declines and overfishing.

Age and Growth of Indo-Pacific Sailfish

The Indo-Pacific sailfish are one of the most popular marine species in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for recreational fishing. Globally, sailfish populations are declining due to overexploitation, which is also affecting Gulf sailfish genetics.

Because of the small size of the Gulf, where sailfish live year-round, it is important to get basic sailfish biology and life history information. Age and growth characteristics are crucial for assessing and managing stock populations in fishing. The Gulf sailfish, however, aren’t equipped with this kind of information.

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However, a study of Indo-Pacific sailfish age and growth was conducted by examining the dorsal and anal fin spines of 85 sailfish from the Gulf. Putative annular growth bands were also used to estimate age. Study results showed that female sailfish exhibited the maximum lower jaw-fork length (LJFL) and weight.

For females, the age classes ranged from 0+ to 8 years, while for males, the age classes ranged from 0+ to 6 years. The most common age groups for both sexes were 1, 0+, and 3, which accounted for 75% of all samples.

Then, after two years of rapid growth, the von Bertalanffy growth function showed that males’ length stabilized while females’ length and weight continued to increase.

In summary, this study investigates Gulf sailfish’s age and growth patterns as part of conservation management strategies. Researchers found that Gulf sailfish develop opaque and translucent growth bands in one-year cycles on their fourth dorsal fin spine.

Also, the study claimed that Gulf sailfish exhibited rapid growth in their early years. Females grow larger than males and a peak in growth rate occurs at around 3–4 years of age.

So, using the information obtained from this study, conservation managers can identify growth patterns and age distributions of Gulf sailfish. It is usually important to understand the demographic characteristics of Gulf sailfish for accurate stock assessment and management.



How many sailfish are in the world?

The exact number of sailfish in the world is difficult to determine because their populations are constantly changing due to several factors.

According to the foundation’s tag and release database, Billfish Foundation anglers and captains tagged, released, or recaptured 2,908 sailfish in 2020.

Besides, the total number of sailfish tagged in 2020 was 1,357. For understanding and managing sailfish populations, these numbers are useful.

Are sailfish going extinct?

Not Yet! On a global scale, sailfish are not considered to be in danger of extinction. But, while their exact conservation status is still uncertain, scientists are concerned that the species may be heading toward extinction. So, fisheries management strategies must be adopted to ensure that sailfish populations remain sustainable. 

Do you think they are in threat of endangerment? 

Yes! Sailfish are considered to be of the least concern in terms of endangerment. Their populations are decreasing due to commercial and recreational fisheries. The species is also facing potential threats from environmental degradation.

What is the average lifespan of Indo-Pacific sailfish?

Well, An Indo-Pacific sailfish can live up to 15 years, according to scientific estimates. On average, the lifespan of this species is around 4 to 5 years. Due to fishing pressure and other environmental factors, many sailfish must reach their full lifespan.


Sailfish are considered to be threatened with extinction, though some populations are increasing. Much research and conservation are still needed to ensure the sustainability of sailfish populations. By collaborating with governments, corporations, and individuals, I can save seas from the extinction of the majestic sailfish.

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