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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The swordfish now ranks as one of the Mediterranean's most vulnerable species, the European Union said on Thursday, proposing new measures to protect diminishing stocks.
As well as continuing a swordfish fishing ban for two consecutive months each year -- October and November this year -- the EU wants to prevent the "by-catch" of swordfish by vessels that are supposed to be fishing for other species.
That should lead to the improved protection of juvenile swordfish, it said, while other elements of the proposal would bolster the collection of data on the total swordfish stock.
The proposals are being presented to ICCAT -- the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas -- an international body that seeks the protection of several fish species beyond tuna and is currently meeting in Brazil.
"Swordfish has recently been subject to high mortality, due to either direct commercial fishing or to incidental catches in other fishing operations," the European Commission said.
The Commission said in a statement it hoped the ICAAT would back its proposals and help "better protect one of the most vulnerable and symbolic species in the Mediterranean."
Swordfish can grow to more than 4.5 metres (15 feet) long and weigh up to 650 kg (1,400 lb), and are a prime fishing target because of their popularity in restaurants worldwide.
The long, sharp-beaked fish can swim at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), but that has not prevented them becoming a target for fast fishing vessels with vast, closely meshed nets.
(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Jon Boyle)