A while ago when we went fishing at a small barrier island off Marco Island (the northernmost point of the Ten Thousand Islands and just south of Naples, Florida). We got out of the boat and walked in a shallow water inlet on the island and came across some small fish. Upon a little closer examination, we were thrilled to find out they are actually three juvenile sawfish. Well, their distinctive saw-like rostrum didn’t really take too long to be recognized. We are thrilled about the sighting, because these legendary sawfish are definitely not among the common to be seen. But we soon calmed down because we are also aware how critically endangered and protected these sawfish are. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a Sawfish Survey. The statewide survey is asking anglers, boaters, and beach-goers to help biologists learn more about the areas in which sawfish are sighted. To file a report of a sawfish sighting or encounter, the date and time of the encounter, the location, the estimated length of each sawfish, the water depth, and any other relevant details should be included. We also reported the sighting to Dan Brown, our local International Sawfish Encounter Database Manager at Florida Museum of Natural History.
Historically, sawfish were a common sight off Florida’s coastline. However, they have become less common during the last century because they were unintentionally overfished. Their long saws, were easily entangled in any kind of fishing gear. Sawfish rostrums have also been popular trophy items. Since these fish produce few young, it has been a challenge for their population to recover after being depleted. Today the small-tooth sawfish is found living mostly in Southwest Florida waters (mainly the Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades National Park and as far north as the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers). Sawfish have been protected in Florida since 1992 and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has banned the international trade in sawfish. The ban which stops the sale of most sawfish species and their parts worldwide will offer additional protection for the smalltooth sawfish found in Florida. Worldwide, there are seven species of sawfish and all are classified as Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union.
It is illegal to harm, kill, trade or possess any sawfish or sawfish parts. However, it can be difficult to avoid catching them while fishing for other species. Sawfish should be released unharmed quickly and safely. It is important to note that sawfish rostrums should never be removed. Finally, don’t forget to report the sighting. Every effort to protect the endangered sawfish is greatly appreciated.