Florida Museum of Natural History

Sawfish Conservation

Sawfish Images


A Fish Tale: Sawfish Fact and Fiction Through History
By M. Burger

Sawfish Images


Myth #2) Sawfish rostra are culturally significant and legal curios to own in the United States

Smalltooth sawfish rostra (and all sawfish parts including fins and meat) are illegal to sell or trade in the United States as of May 2003, when the species gained federal protection in the U.S. through listing under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In addition, it is illegal to internationally sell, trade or transfer sawfish rostra across U.S. boundaries and internally across state lines and within states. The only exception to trade or sale being illegal in the United States is if documentation exists that proves the rostrum was harvested before protections were enacted. This documentation can be acquired through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While it isn't unusual to see sawfish rostra hanging on the walls of Florida bars, the ISED strongly encourages anyone in possession of a sawfish rostrum to consider donation of the specimen to a museum or university for research purposes, including genetic analysis, age, and growth estimates. However, the endangered status of the species makes it illegal to harm, harass, or handle them in any way-so going out fishing with the intent to land a sawfish to display over the mantle is not permitted, and violating the law can land you with a $10,000 fine for every specimen recovered.

In many countries, sawfish are culturally significant. For example, aboriginal societies in Australia believe that sawfish-like ancestors came from the sea and used their rostra to shape the land and gouge rivers. According to the Kuna population of the Caribbean, sawfish protect mankind from sea monsters and will even save people from drowning.

Sawfish have also been symbols of prosperity and warfare, and they are believed to possess supernatural powers by some societies. People have nailed rostrums over doors to dissuade ghosts from entering and hung them above cradles to keep babies from crying. In World War II, pictures of sawfish hung on the walls of some German U-boats and American submarines, and in New Guinea sawfish are believed to cause flooding if people break traditional fishing taboos.



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