Protections for the Critically Endangered Largetooth Sawfish Increased in the Caribbean

Earlier this week, on June 5th World Environment Day, 17 Caribbean countries unanimously agreed to extend further protections to the critically endangered Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis).  The largetooth sawfish is a member of the family Pristidae. Though sawfish may look like sharks with their wide, broad pectoral fins and high dorsal fin, they are actually a species of ray. The largetooth sawfish is found in tropical coastal and estuarine waters less than 30 feet (10 m) deep (Kyne, Carlson, & Smith, 2013). Like many species of elasmobranchs, the largetooth sawfish is characterized by slow growth rates, late age maturity, and low fecundity, which makes them vulnerable to targeted and bycatch fishing (CITES, 2007). Their rostrum makes them particularly vulnerable to entanglement in gill and drift nets. All five species of sawfish are categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These species, that were once relatively common throughout their habitats, have seen steep population declines throughout their ranges.

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National Aquarium (Photographer). (n.d.). Largetooth Sawfish [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://www.aqua.org/

In many regions where the largetooth sawfish was once found, they are now locally extinct due to over exploitation of the fisheries industries. Throughout most of the Caribbean Sea, the largetooth sawfish is thought to be locally extinct. Only a handful of Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas, Cuba, Columbia, and Costa Rica, are thought to harbor sawfish. But the inclusion of the largetooth sawfish this week to the Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention aims to grant largetooth sawfish further protections from fisheries in Caribbean waters (The Ocean Foundation, 2019). Under Annex II, member governments would be obligated to cooperate with recovery population efforts and impose strict national protections for the largetooth sawfish.

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IUCN (Author). (2013). Geographic Range of the Largetooth Sawfish [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/18584848/18620395

This type of cooperative legislation is a huge step in the right direction. I hope that it has not come too late for the largetooth sawfish. Support from the public is a major contributing factor to making conservation legislation happen. Other elasmobranchs need your voice. Tell your representatives that you care about environmental and wildlife conservation. It only takes a moment to make a change that will last a lifetime.

The new Ocean For Sharks Shop is open! There’s handmade ocean inspired plush animals, canvas paintings, and of course my children’s book, Winifred the Wondrous Whale Shark, available in print and PDF. Be sure to stop by. Proceeds benefit shark research and conservation with a donation to Project AWARE!

Thanks so much for checking out the wild Bigeye Thresher Shark! If you missed last week’s featured species, please be sure to check out the amazing Caribbean Rough Shark! If there is a species of elasmobranch you’d love to know more about, leave me a comment or send me a message! I would love to do a feature on your favorite species. Also connect with me on Instagram and Facebook for even more elasmo fun!

Until next time finactics!

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Featured Image Source

Simon Fraser University (Photographer). (2007). Pristis pristis in the Townsville region Queensland [Digital Image]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pristis_pristis_townsville.jpg

Literature Cited

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). (2007). Proposal 17 Inclusion of all species of the family Pristidae in Appendix I of CITES. Fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties The Hague (Netherlands), 3-15 June 2007. http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/14/prop/e14-p17.pdf.

Kyne, P.M., Carlson, J. & Smith, K. (2013). Pristis pristisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved from https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/18584848/18620395

The Ocean Foundation. (2019). Caribbean Countries Agree to Protect Endangered Largetooth Sawfish | The Ocean Foundation. Retrieved June 7, 2019, from https://www.oceanfdn.org/

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