Ghosts of the coast: global extinction risk and conservation of sawfishes
- Sawfish are arguably the world's most imperilled marine fishes. All five species are classified as highly threatened with extinction: three are Critically Endangered (smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata, largetooth sawfish Pristis pristis, and green sawfish Pristis zijsron); two are Endangered (narrow sawfish Anoxypristis cuspidata, and dwarf sawfish Pristis clavata).
- Sawfishes are threatened primarily due to a combination of their low intrinsic rates of population increase, high catchability in fisheries, and high value. Sawfishes are among the world's largest marine fishes, and they are caught by a wide range of fishing gears owing to their tooth-studded rostra being easily entangled. Sawfish fins are some of the most valuable for shark fin soup, and their rostra have long been traded as curios. In addition, they inhabit shallow coastal waters, estuaries, and rivers of the tropics and subtropics, down to a maximum depth rarely exceeding 100 m and are associated with threatened mangrove and seagrass habitats.
- Historically, sawfishes were distributed in the coastal waters of 90 countries and territories. Over the past century, their geographic distribution has been greatly diminished. For example, the smalltooth sawfish is now found in <20% of its former range. Globally, sawfishes are now entirely absent from 20 countries; 43 countries have lost at least one species.
- Sawfishes are legally protected, to some degree, in 16 of the 90 range states. These safeguards encompass, on average, 81% of their Extant distribution; however, the quality and breadth of protection varies dramatically across countries and species. Smalltooth sawfish currently has the least amount of such coverage of only half (49%) of Extant distribution.
- The global conservation strategy specifies actions to protect sawfish and their habitats. Such actions are urgently warranted to avoid global extinction and to restore robust populations for the benefit of coastal ecosystem function and biodiversity.