Securing the future for sawfishes

27 September 2012 | Article

There was a time when so many sawfishes were caught in areas of Pakistan that people made fences with the rostrums, the saw-like beak of the sawfish. Today, however, some people in the region might catch a sawfish just once or twice a year.

Earlier this month at the IUCN 2012 World Conservation Congress, the Shark Specialist Group of IUCN's Species Survival Commission (SSC) took the opportunity to promote sawfish conservation and build awareness with people who may be able to help stop sawfishes disappearing from our waters forever. One person had not even realized that sawfishes were present in her country and that she could help to protect them – a new supporter for sawfish conservation!

There are seven sawfish species living in the shallow coastal waters of the tropical and sub-tropical Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. All are listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Using anecdotal information from the people who live and fish in the areas where sawfishes can be found, as well as scientific data, the Shark Specialist Group has gathered enough information to develop a Global Conservation Strategy that details the actions required to secure a safe future for sawfishes.

Although fully protected in the USA and most parts of Australia, elsewhere, the quality and enforcement of legislation that protects sawfishes varies or is non-existent. The greatest threat to sawfishes is fishing as their distinctive, toothed rostra are easily entangled in all kinds of nets. Valued both culturally and economically, sawfishes - which can grow up to 7m (21ft) in length - are highly prized as an ingredient in shark fin soup and as curios so they are usually kept if caught accidentally.

The information shared during this Congress will be used by the Shark Specialist Group to further develop the Global Conservation Strategy for sawfishes as well as increasing the network of people able to help implement the Strategy, with the hope of securing their future. And it is hoped that the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity conference in India will see governments putting their commitments into action regarding the conservation of biodiversity in general.

For more information please contact:
Lucy Harrison, Programme Officer, IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group, e: iucnshark@gmail.com