Earlier this month, the National Marine Fisheries Services granted sawfish protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Sawfish are one of the most, if not the most, imperiled groups of cartilaginous fish. Like most sharks and rays, late maturity and low reproduction rates make these animals vulnerable to over-exploitation. Additionally, their toothed “saw” often gets caught in fishing gear and nets, making them susceptible to bycatch. As a result of these threats, populations of sawfish have reportedly declined by as much as 99 percent in recent decades.
All seven recognized species of sawfish are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Nationally however, earlier petitions to grant sawfish similar protection under the ESA have not been successful. The first listing, of the smalltooth sawfish, occured in April of 2003. The largetooth sawfish was listed under the ESA in August of 2011. With the freshwater and largetooth species recently being synonymized, all are now protected under the ESA, including the two living here at the Aquarium.
The designation to list all species of sawfish is a positive step forward for these animals. The hope is that through collaboration with other aquariums, research biologists, conservation groups and NGOs we can assist in the recovery of sawfish populations worldwide.