Shark Advocates International is applauding the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decision to list largetooth sawfish (Pristisperotteti) under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Largetooth sawfish occur in coastal waters and rivers in Mexico, Central and South America, as well as West Africa. In the U.S., the species has been found in the Gulf of Mexico, primarily off Texas, but not since the 1960s.
"Sawfish are among the most endangered fish in the world," said Shark Advocates International President, Sonja Fordham. "By adding largetooth sawfish to the Endangered Species List, the U.S. government is taking an important step toward preventing extinction of this remarkable animal and raising awareness about the plight of all sawfish species."
Sawfish are rays characterized by long, tooth-studded snouts. They are exceptionally vulnerable to over-exploitation due to slow growth, late maturity, and small number of young. All species are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered. The only other sawfish species native to the U.S., smalltooth sawfish (Pristispectinata), was listed under the ESA in 2003 and is now the subject of a recovery plan.
The biggest threats to sawfish are incidental take (or "bycatch") in fishing gear, particularly shrimp trawls, and degradation of near-shore habitats. Sawfish "saws" are sold as curios; their fins are prized for shark fin soup. In 2007, a U.S. proposal led to the listing of all sawfish species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); international trade is essentially banned for all but one species.
Beginning August 11, largetooth sawfish will receive federal protection; the U.S. will also encourage other range countries to take similar steps.
Shark Advocates International supports ESA listing of largetooth sawfish as well as:
• National protection for all species of sawfish in all range countries
• Better monitoring of South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries
• Fishing measures to minimize sawfish bycatch
• Research to inform sawfish conservation, and
• Development of an IUCN Shark Specialist Group global strategy for sawfish conservation.
Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to advance science-based limits on shark fishing and trade, protection for endangered species, and stronger bans on finning.