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Most Commonly Asked Questions

Sawfish Conservation

Are sawfishes threatened or endangered?

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species categorizes all sawfishes as endangered. The smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), in addition to the IUCN Red List designation, is listed under the US Endangered Species Act of 1973 as an endangered species. The largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti), has also been recently listed (May 2010) as "Endangered" and is now protected under the US Endangered Species Act.

What are some threats to sawfishes?

Threats to sawfishes included both human-induced and natural causes of injury or mortality.

Human-induced threats include the reduction of coastal habitat through human modifications (i.e., construction of dams, dredge and fill practices, coastal armoring), pollution-related injuries and death, and landings of sawfishes as bycatch and in targeted fisheries for their meat, liver oil, fins, skin (leather), and rostra. Natural threats to sawfishes are poorly known, but include predation by sharks and other large predators, and mortality attributable to red tide (including the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis).

Why should we protect sawfishes?

Sawfishes are important members of tropical and subtropical estuarine communities. Like other top predators, sawfishes perform a valuable function in culling out sick or injured prey species such as schooling fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods. Sawfishes may play a number of other important roles in estuarine communities that science has not yet learned about. In addition, sawfishes have for centuries been important to humankind both as valuable food and medicinal resources, and as religious and cultural symbols.

Is it legal to buy and sell sawfish "saws" in the U.S.?

The FLMNH Florida Program for Shark Research strongly discourages the trading of sawfish parts, including sawfish fins and rostra (also called "saws" or "snouts"). Sawfish populations worldwide are thought to be seriously depleted and are categorized as Endangered by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and every effort should be taken in reducing incentives to land or wound these remarkable animals.

The trading of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) parts, including rostra, meat, and fins, is prohibited in the United States, since this species has gained protection under the US Endangered Species Act of 1973. The enforcement of this new listing began on 1 May, 2003. This includes exportation and importation in and out of US boundaries, and the moving of smalltooth sawfish rostra across state boundaries (even without sale), without first obtaining a permit allowing you to do so. Persons documented buying or selling smalltooth sawfish parts within state boundaries can also be convicted of an illegal act, as the courts have interpreted interstate trade very broadly in the past. The only exception to the prohibition on trade in smalltooth sawfish parts in the US is in the instance where there is documentation that proves that it was obtained more than 100 years ago. In addition to federal ESA protection, the trade of rostra and other parts from this species has been banned under both Florida and Louisiana laws.

The trading of largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti) parts, including rostra, meat, and fins, has been banned by state law in Florida and Louisiana. As of May 2010, the largetooth sawfish is under review for listing as a federally endangered species for protection under the US Endangered Species Act.

Under the US Endangered Species Act's (ESA) Section 9, in part, it is illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States: "to import into, or export from the United States; to take within the United States, the territorial sea of the United States, or on the high seas; to ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity; or to sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any endangered wildlife. To possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship endangered wildlife that has been taken illegally is also prohibited."

The information given above should not be considered fact, as we are not experts of US wildlife law, and laws concerning sawfishes may change more often than we are able to update this web page. For specific information concerning the trading and possession of sawfish rostra, please contact the appropriate governmental agency.

Are sawfishes protected throughout the world?

On June 11 2007, Kenya and the U.S. introduced proposal CoP14 Prop 17 to The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) supporting the listing of all seven species of sawfish under Appendix I. Currently, six of seven sawfish species are listed under Appendix I of CITES. The seventh species, the freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon), is listed under Appendix II, allowing the trade of live animals to aquaria only.

The Australian government introduced an amendment to the CITES proposal to permit the live trade of Pristis microdon to aquaria. They reported that the population in Australia was robust and could support a limited trade for displays to aquaria to raise public awareness and increase conservation efforts. Australia is the only country permitted to export live sawfish specimens.

Appendix I of the CITES prohibits the international trade in specimens of the six species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, i.e. research, and requires an authorized import permit and an export permit (or re-export certificate). International trade in Pristis microdon, under Appendix-II, may be permitted with an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary for these species under CITES (although a permit is needed in some countries that have taken stricter measures than CITES requires).


Are there any public aquariums where I can see a live sawfish?

Yes, there are quite a number of aquaria where you can view a live sawfish in captivity. Sawfishes currently kept in public aquaria include: the dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata), the freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon), the smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), and the green sawfish (Pristis zijsron). To the author's knowledge, the knifetooth sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) and the largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti) are currently not being displayed in any public aquaria.

As of this printing (November 2005), live sawfishes can be viewed in the United States in the following aquaria:
    Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Six Flags Marine World at Vallejo: 1 smalltooth sawfish
    Downtown Aquarium Denver: 2 green sawfish
    SeaWorld Adventure Park in Orlando: 2 smalltooth sawfish
    Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta: 5 freshwater sawfish
    John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago: 1 green sawfish
    National Aquarium in Baltimore: 2 freshwater sawfish
    Underwater Adventures Aquarium in Bloomington: 2 green sawfish
    Adventure Aquarium in Camden: 1 freshwater and 1 green sawfish
    Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas: 3 green sawfish
    Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach: 1 freshwater, 2 smalltooth, and 1 green sawfish
    Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg: 2 freshwater, 1 smalltooth, and 1 green sawfish
    Aquarium Restaurant (Landry's) in Nashville: 1 freshwater sawfish
  • TEXAS:
    Downtown Aquarium (Landry's) in Houston: 2 green sawfish

Captive living sawfishes can also be viewed in the following countries outside the United States:
    Sydney Aquarium: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Territory Wildlife Park in Berry Springs, NT: 2 freshwater sawfish
    Underwater World, Sunshine Coast in Mooloolaba: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Atlantis in Paradise Island: 4 smalltooth sawfish
  • CHINA:
    Ocean Park in Hong Kong: 2 freshwater sawfish
    Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in Shanghai: 2 freshwater sawfish
    Oceanário Islas del Rosario in Islas de Rosario: 1 smalltooth sawfish
    Oceanopolis in Brest: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Aquarium de la Rochelle in La Rochelle: 1 freshwater sawfish
    L'Aquarium Oceanographique in Vannes: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Berlin Aquarium: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Sylt Aquarium in Westerland: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Taman Akuarium Air Tawar in Jakarta: 2 freshwater sawfish
  • ITALY:
    L'Acquario di Genova in Genova: 2 green sawfish
  • JAPAN:
    Futami Sea Paradise in Futami: 2 freshwater sawfish
    Aburatsubo Marine Park Aquarium in Kanagawa: 1 freshwater sawfish and 1 green sawfish
    Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido: 2 freshwater sawfish
    Shinagawa Aquarium in Tokyo: 2 freshwater sawfish and 1 dwarf sawfish
    Hakkeijima Sea Paradise in Yokohama: 1 dwarf sawfish
  • KOREA:
    Busen Aquarium in Busen: 2 freshwater sawfish
    COEX Aquarium in Seoul: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Underwater World Langkawi in Langkawi: 1 freshwater sawfish
    Underwater World Singapore in Singapore: 3 freshwater sawfish
  • SPAIN:
    Oceanografico in Valencia: 2 green sawfish
    The Deep in Hull: 2 freshwater sawfish

What should I do if I encounter a sawfish in its natural habitat?

Sawfish are listed under the Endangered Species Act which makes it illegal to harm, harass, or handle them in any way. If you do see a sawfish, enjoy the moment and feel extremely lucky!

It is illegal to hook or net one, except with a permit or in a permitted fishery. Accidental captures do occur while fishing for other species; if a sawfish is hooked or netted, it should be released immediately. Remove as much fishing gear as safely possible - DO NOT REMOVE THE SAW.

For more information, visit our Sawfish Encounter web page.


What is the safest way to release a captured sawfish?

If hooked:
  • Keep the sawfish in the water at all times
  • If it can be done safely, untangle the line if it is wrapped around the saw and remove as much of the line as possible.
  • Cut the line as close to the hook as possible.
  • Do not handle the animal or attempt to remove any hooks on the saw unless you have a long-handled dehooker.
If tangled in a net:
  • Make every effort to free the animal from the net with minimal additional stress or injury.
  • Keep sawfish, especially the gills, in the water as much as possible.
  • Try to remove all the netting and release the animal quickly.


What can I do to help sawfish conservation efforts?

The Florida Museum of Natural History has established a sawfish tracking database to assist in sawfish conservation efforts. If you do accidentally encounter a sawfish, you can greatly help conservation efforts by providing the following information:
  • Your name, phone number, and email address
  • Date, time, and location of encounter
  • Number, size, and behavior of the sawfish at time of encounter
  • Your activity at time of encounter
  • Information on any tags, scars, or distinguishing marks

Encounters should be reported to the National Sawfish Encounter Database via an online form or reported to the below email contacts:

George Burgess
Florida Museum of Natural History
Email: gburgess@flmnh.ufl.edu
Phone: 352.392.2360

Greg Poulakis
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Phone: 941.255.7403

Answers by:
Jason Seitz