What Are Smalltooth Sawfish?

Smalltooth Sawfish: On the Road to Recovery
from The Fishing Wire

Sign about smalltooth sawfish


A billboard in Florida City educates visitors to the Florida Keys about endangered sawfish. Credit: Mike Barnette

By Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation
from The Fishing Wire

The U.S. Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team recently released a video which looks at smalltooth sawfish recovery in the United States, 15 years after its listing under the Endangered Species Act. To watch the video visithttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&feature=youtu.be

The video is themed around the “road” to recovery and starts with an aerial drive down US 1 into Florida City where Keys visitors are now welcomed by a billboard promoting sawfish conservation. The billboard highlights three key concepts of sawfish conservation: respect, release, and report.

Viewers are given a brief description of smalltooth sawfish biology, the habitats where they live, and why the population decreased to the point that it needs protection under the Endangered Species Act. The video then introduces the smalltooth sawfish recovery implementation team developed by NOAA Fisheries to aid in recovering this species.

“Our Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Implementation Team is comprised of a number of partners from both federal and state government, non-government organizations, universities, and the fishing industry. Each year we get together to review what we’ve learned through our research in the previous year and set goals for the upcoming year,” states team member Tonya Wiley of Havenworth Coastal Conservation.

Gregg Poulakis of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spoke about the progress of the team since its inception, stating, “when the recovery team came into existence shortly after the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act, we knew very little about the species. Basically, any question that we asked, or anyone would ask, about the biology or ecology of the species didn’t have an answer, so we had a lot of priorities initially, and over the last 15 years we’ve learned a lot.”

The video progresses by briefly discussing current research on this endangered species before introducing team member and professional charter captain, Charlie Phillips of Hope Fishing Adventures. Charlie explains why he volunteered to become part of the team, “I’m an Everglades National Park permitted captain myself, and the sawfish is the heart of the Everglades. I mean it embodies the area that I fish, so having an opportunity for people to interact correctly with that endangered species is very important and trying to share that with as many people as I can…is why I’m here.” Charlie’s account as a recreational angler segues into the safe release guidance that the team has developed and continues to promote. Should an angler catch a sawfish, our guidance is to leave the sawfish in the water, cut the line as close to the hook as possible, release the sawfish quickly, and report to us the information about the encounter.

The video details what a recovered population of smalltooth sawfish in the U.S. might look like. While there is some uncertainty, John Carlson of NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center states, “… sawfish historically were found in areas from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico so what we should see as the population recovers, is that abundance trends are increasing as well as seeing individuals in some of those historic areas.”

Juvenile smallthooth sawfish


A juvenile smalltooth sawfish swims in the shallows of Everglades National Park. Credit: Andrea Kroetz

With the evidence to date, the team thinks endangered smalltooth sawfish are on the path to recovery. “Based on the species current status and its life history characteristics, the smalltooth sawfish population is not likely to fully recover for at least 40 to 50 years,” concludes Adam Brame, the Sawfish Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. “We are seeing signs of progress, however, and due to these modest improvements, we’re cautiously optimistic that the smalltooth sawfish is indeed on the road to recovery.”

Please check out the video and share it with others to foster support for this endangered species. To watch the video visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&feature=youtu.be And, as always, to report a smalltooth sawfish encounter call 1-844-4SAWFISH or email sawfish@myfwc.com.

For more information:

Internet: www.SawfishRecovery.org
Facebook: U.S. Sawfish Recovery
Twitter: @SawfishRecovery

Tonya Wiley, President
Tonya@havenworth.org
941-201-2685
www.havenworth.org

Tax-deductible donations to help us continue our mission to promote the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources through research, outreach, and education can be made at https://www.oceanfdn.org/donate/havenworth-coastal-conservation

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