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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Five Endangered Sawfish Get Federal Protection

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service has listed five species of sawfish as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The action was prompted by a 2010 petition from the WildEarth Guardians (WEG), according to the final listing rule.

The NOAA made certain taxonomic changes prior to the 2013 listing proposal, which consolidated three species under one classification. The 2013 action also proposed four other sawfish species for listing. The agency has determined that all five of the proposed species, the narrow sawfish, dwarf sawfish, largetooth sawfish, green sawfish and the non-listed populations of smalltooth sawfish, are "presently in danger of extinction," according to the action. A population of smalltooth sawfish in the waters around Florida are already listed under the ESA.

The fish face threats from commercial and recreational fishing and poaching. They often become entangled in fishing nets, lines and trawls due to their long rostrums, or saws, which are edged with teeth on both sides. Closely related to sharks, the sawfish fins, teeth and rostrums can bring up to $1,000 US on the unregulated market, according to the action. The sawfish are also threatened by loss of habitat due to shoreline development.

"It's high time these incredible fish receive the best available protections from extinction," WildEarth Guardians' Taylor Jones was quoted as saying in the group's response to the final listing. "Sawfishes' value as a living part of the ecosystem is far greater than any value their parts might fetch in trade."

Sawfish use their rostrums to stun and kill prey after they have located it by sensing their prey's electric fields. The rostrums are also used for protection from larger predators, such as bull sharks and alligators.

Sawfish are usually found in shallow tropical waters, often near estuaries, though they are also found in deep water and in freshwater rivers and lakes in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. They are also inhabit the waters around Australia.

Some sawfish can grow quite long, up to 20 feet, and they tend to be long-lived, and slow to reach sexual maturity, which hinders the species' ability to adapt to threats.

No critical habitat is proposed for these sawfish because they are not found within U.S. jurisdiction, but the agency has coordinated outreach and is working collaboratively with other countries to survey and aid recovery of the fish by developing plans to reduce bycatch in trawl and gillnet fisheries, and to prevent illegal trade, the agency said.

The listing is effective Jan. 12.

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