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Threat of sawfish extinction looms

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Threat of sawfish extinction looms

Tue, 16/02/2021 - 11:17
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There are five species of sawfish in the world, and all are under threat.

Largetooth sawfish in an aquarium.
Largetooth sawfish in an aquarium.

According to a new study published in Science Advances, sawfish are no longer found in half of the world’s coastal waters, as they are being threatened by extinction due to overfishing and habitat loss.  

Of the five sawfish species, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis), smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) and green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) as critically endangered, and the dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata) and narrow sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) as endangered.

In the past, sawfish could be found along the coastlines of 90 countries but they are now presumed to be extinct from 46 of these nations. Eighteen countries have lost at least one sawfish species, while 28 more countries have lost two species.

Today, the sawfish are among the world’s most threatened family of marine fishes.

Although the current presence of all sawfishes worldwide is unknown, Simon Fraser University (SFU) researcher Nicholas K Dulvy warned that complete extinction was possible if nothing was done to curb overfishing and to protect threatened habitats, such as mangroves, where sawfish can thrive.

Based on the findings of the study, it was recommended that international conservation efforts be focussed on eight countries where conservation efforts and adequate fishing protections can save the species. These countries are Cuba, Tanzania, Columbia, Madagascar, Panama, Brazil, Mexico and Sri Lanka.

In addition, it suggested that Australia and the United States be considered as “lifeboat nations”, as adequate protections already exist and some sawfish are still present there.

“While the situation is dire, we hope to offset the bad news by highlighting our informed identification of these priority nations with hope for saving sawfish in their waters,” said Helen F Yan, another SFU researcher.

“We also underscore our finding that it’s actually still possible to restore sawfish to more than 70 per cent of their historical range, if we act now.”

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