Protocols for surveying and tagging sawfishes and river sharks

This document will establish best practice guidelines for safe and ethical research and monitoring of threatened sawfishes and river sharks in Australia. It covers surveying, handling, processing (data collection), tagging and releasing sawfishes and river sharks.

This manual is designed specifically for threatened euryhaline elasmobranchs - sawfishes (Pristis species) and river sharks (Glyphis species) - in coastal, estuarine and freshwater systems. However, it also has wider application to elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) in general.

Environmental consultants (not specifically trained to work on these species; in relation, but not exclusive to, environmental impact assessments), State and Territory agencies that undertake environmental assessments and approvals, research academics and students, Commonwealth, State and Territory fisheries agency staff, national park staff, traditional owners and Indigenous ranger groups, and the Commonwealth Department of the Environment.

For use by consultants when undertaking surveys for threatened sawfishes and river sharks for environmental impact assessments; for researchers and resource management staff undertaking activities related to sawfishes and river sharks; for the Department of the Environment and other Commonwealth, State and Territory Government Departments when assessing research proposals and addressing referred actions.

This document arises from a need to develop a standardised procedure for all aspects of research and monitoring associated with sawfishes and river sharks. It recognises that issues such as excessive handling and prolonged exposure to the sun, incorrect tagging approaches and tag biofouling have previously occurred causing adverse effects on animals (issues not unique to just these species, having occurred more widely with elasmobranchs). This document aims to alleviate these adverse effects through awareness, education and standardised procedures. This document also serves to maximise the amount of data collected from each capture of these species and provide a standard format for the collection of data across Australia. Reducing the risks of research and monitoring and making the most value of any data collected will support the Recovery Plan for these species (DOE 2014).

It is recommended that research or monitoring on other species using fishing/survey gear which may potentially interact with sawfishes and river sharks adhere to these protocols in order to minimise their impact.
While these protocols have been developed specifically for sawfishes and river sharks of northern Australia, they may generally be applicable to research and surveying of these species in other locations, and more broadly to other elasmobranch species. However, local conditions and species-specific factors will need to be considered.

All research including surveys, monitoring and tagging requires valid permits from the relevant State/Territory and/or Commonwealth agencies. Additionally, procedures are required to be approved by an independent Animal Ethics Committee (see research permits section, page 36).

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