Fish Agency Wants Protections for Sawfish

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed five species of sawfish for endangered listing status under the Endangered Species Act, according to a new regulation. The action is in response to a 2010 petition from WildEarth Guardians (WEG), the environmental group’s press release stated.
     The WEG petition listed six species of sawfish, but the NMFS determined that one of the species was not a valid species. The agency made other taxonomic changes during its status review process, and has determined that the narrow sawfish, dwarf sawfish, largetooth sawfish, green sawfish and the non-listed populations of smalltooth sawfish meet the criteria to be listed as endangered, meaning they are “presently in danger of extinction,” according to the action.
     “Commercial and recreational fishing pose the biggest threat to sawfish. Sawfish have very high commercial value; their saws, teeth, and fins can fetch up to $1,000 U.S., and markets for sawfish are largely unregulated. Their saws also make them particularly vulnerable to entanglement in nets, and if caught as bycatch, they are unlikely to be released,” WEG noted.
     The NMFS also found that the fish were at risk throughout all of their ranges due to present or imminent destruction or modification of habitat, overuse for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes, and the inadequacy of existing regulations. “Continued development, especially near shorelines, and human population growth threaten sawfish habitats, particularly important nursery areas for pups including mangrove forests. Pollution threatens water quality, and dams impact the flow of freshwater into the deltas the sawfish call home,” according to WEG.
     Sawfish use their saw, or rostrum, to locate, stun and kill prey, such as small schooling fish. They use a slashing sideways motion to impale fish on the “teeth” of the rostrum, then scrape the rostrum off by rubbing it on the ocean bottom and eating the prey whole. Sawfish usually live in tropical shallow coastal waters, often near estuaries, though they are also found in deep water and in freshwater rivers and lakes in South America. “Recent studies indicate that sawfishes may use their toothed rostrum to sense their prey’s electric fields,” the NMFS noted.
     Sawfish give birth to live “pups,” and a gelatinous substance surrounds the babies’ rostral teeth to protect the mother during gestation and birth. Largetooth sawfish can theoretically live to be 80 years old and grow to an estimated 20 feet in length, according to the petition finding.
     No critical habitat is proposed for the sawfish because the species live entirely outside U.S. jurisdiction and the agency has not identified any unoccupied areas that are currently essential to the conservation of the species.
     Comments are requested by Aug. 5, and public hearing requests by July 19.

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