Florida Museum of Natural History

Sawfish Conservation

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

Sawfish Images


Myth #5) Sawfish populations have been depleted beyond recovery

The National Sawfish Recovery Implementation Team published a recovery plan for the species in 2003 that projects that the species can make a recovery over a 100-year time frame (four generations) with effective action, research, and help from the public. But, adopting an "us-versus-them" mindset is counterproductive towards the livelihood of the species and the role they play as a top predator in ocean ecosystems.

Sawfish are what is known as a k-selected species. This means that they are best able to maintain a small, persistent population size in a stable environment. Characteristics of k-selected animals include late maturation, a long lifespan, and few young. Since these species don't adapt well to environmental variables, decimated populations can take years to recover despite conservation efforts.

As previously mentioned, sawfish are not responsible for capsizing boats or killing humans, but humans have and still do engage in activities that are harmful for their species recovery. For example, some anglers remove the rostra from sawfish before throwing them back, either to keep as a trophy for landing a "mud marlin" or "sea monster" or to make removal from a net easier. Since 2003, there have been 35 encounters of sawfish lacking a rostrum reported to the ISED. It is currently unknown how such animals fare in the wild without their saw.

Other factors that harm sawfish include habitat loss and pollution. When sawfish are released, there is often a considerable amount of line left on the animal. In some cases, monofilament fishing line has become wrapped around individuals and caused limited respiratory function and death. Dredging in shallow waters around red mangrove forests also compromises the species' recovery by destroying critical habitat for juveniles.

Scientists at the FPSR depend on members of the public to submit their sawfish encounters (worldwide, historic or recent) to us in order to continue monitoring the livelihood of the species and increasing conservation efforts. Visit the FLMNH sawfish website to submit an encounter form online, browse updates of ongoing sawfish research and learn more about the first marine fish to be listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA).



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