Endangered sawfish strategy

Photo: Largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis) Photo: David Wackenfelt Photo: Largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis) Photo: David Wackenfelt

The Shark Specialist Group (SSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a global strategy to prevent extinction and promote recovery of sawfish.

The strategy, launched at the Sharks International conference in Durban, coincides with announcements that both Guinea and Guinea Bissau are proposing the listing of sawfishes under the Convention on Migratory Species in November, which could significantly boost protection.

Strategy co-author, Dr Nick Dulvy, who serves as IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, said: “With this comprehensive strategy, we aim to reignite sawfish reverence and spark conservation action in time to bring these iconic species back from the brink.”

Sawfish are warm water, shark-like rays characterised by long, toothed snouts or 'rostra'. They are the largest of the rays, reaching over seven metres in length. Once found in the coastal waters and rivers of more than 90 tropical and subtropical countries, all five species are today classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The species has been devastated by overfishing and habitat loss in recent years.

Mortality from targeted and incidental fishing is the main threat to sawfish. Their rostra – which they use to detect and wound prey – are easily entangled in many types of fishing gear, particularly trawls and gillnets. The destruction of key habitats, such as mangroves, also poses a threat to its survival.

To compliment an existing ban on commercial international sawfish trade, the strategy calls for national and regional actions to prohibit intentional killing of sawfish, minimise mortality of accidental catches, protect sawfish habitats, and ensure effective enforcement of such safeguards. It also calls for strategic research, and responsible husbandry, as well as fundraising to ensure implementation.

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