By Leya Musa
Scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have launched a global strategy to save the most threatened group of fish in the world – the sawfish. While sharks and rays are regularly featured in popular conservation campaign the sawfish are often the forgotten relations of the big fish.
The new plan is being released by the Shark Specialist Group of the IUCN and is being featured at the Sharks International conference in Durban. Two west African range states are also calling for sawfish to be covered by the Convention on Migratory Species at the next meeting of the convention in November.
“The sawfishes, revered for millennia by coastal cultures around the world, now face greater extinction risk than any other family of marine fish,” said strategy co-author, Dr. Nick Dulvy, who serves as IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “With this comprehensive strategy, we aim to reignite sawfish reverence and spark conservation action in time to bring these iconic species back from the brink.”
Dr. Colin Simpfendorfer, IUCN SSG Co-Chair, Professor of Environmental Science at James Cook University in Queensland explained, “Although these species are perilously close to extinction in many regions, there are some fairly simple ways to help populations recover. For example, we know that sawfish can actually survive capture quite well if handled properly, and hence, basic education of commercial, subsistence, and recreational fishers is central to our conservation strategy.”
Sawfish are the largest of the rays and can each up to 7 metres in length. They are instantly recognised by their long toothed snouts. Once common around the tropics all 5 of the remaining species are classed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.
The biggest threat to the sawfish which live in coastal waters and rivers is the fishing industry. Both targeted overfishing of the sawfish and the problems with by-catch are contributing to the diminishing numbers of the species. The long snouts of the sawfish can get caught in nets and fishing lines leading to the death of the fish.
Another major threat to the sawfish is the loss of their habitats and particularly the mangrove swamps of coastal regions.
There is already a ban on the commercial trade in sawfish under the CITES treaty. The scientists are calling for extra action to take place to help conserve the species including:
- national and regional actions to prohibit intentional killing of sawfish,
- minimize mortality of accidental catches,
- protect sawfish habitats,
- improve effectiveness of communications,
- capacity building,
- strategic research,
- responsible husbandry and
- fundraising to ensure implementation.
Sonja Fordham, IUCN SSG Deputy Chair and President of Washington, DC-based Shark Advocates International said, “Over the last decade, sawfish conservation policies have greatly improved in several countries and globally, but much more action is urgently needed to safeguard these magnificent animals,”
“We are extremely pleased that Guinea Bissau and Guinea will propose sawfish for listing under the Convention on Migratory Species, as this treaty offers an excellent framework for prompting national protection in many priority sawfish range states and for implementing our Sawfish entanglement in fishing line. global strategy on a regional basis.” she continued.