The thin edge of the wedge: extremely high extinction risk in wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes

Wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes have overtaken sawfishes as the most imperilled marine fish families globally, with all but one of the 16 species facing an extremely high risk of extinction through a combination of traits: limited biological productivity; presence in shallow waters overlapping with some of the most intense and increasing coastal fisheries in the world; and overexploitation in target and by-catch fisheries, driven by the need for animal protein and food security in coastal communities and the trade in meat and high-value fins. Two species with very restricted ranges, the clown wedgefish (Rhynchobatus cooki) of the Malay Archipelago and the false shark ray (Rhynchorhina mauritaniensis) of Mauritania, may be very close to extinction. Only the eyebrow wedgefish (Rhynchobatus palpebratus) is not assessed as Critically Endangered, with it occurring primarily in Australia where fishing pressure is low and some management measures are in place. Australia represents a ‘lifeboat’ for the three wedgefish and one giant guitarfish species occurring there. To conserve populations and permit recovery, a suite of measures will be required that will need to include species protection, spatial management, by-catch mitigation, and harvest and international trade management, all of which will be dependent on effective enforcement.

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