The population of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) in the United States experienced a dramatic decline during the 20th century caused by overfishing, habitat loss, and the species’ limited reproductive potential. Given the decline, NOAA Fisheries listed the U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2003. The ultimate goal of the listing is to recover the population to the point that it no longer needs the protections of the ESA; therefore, NOAA Fisheries convened the U.S. Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Implementation Team (SSRIT) to develop and implement a plan to recover the U.S smalltooth sawfish population. The team identified the most severe threats to the population and recommended specific steps for recovery, focusing on (1) educating the public to minimize human interactions with sawfish and any associated injury and mortality, (2) protecting and/or restoring important sawfish habitats, and (3) ensuring sawfish abundance and distribution increase.
As the SSRIT lead, I am happy to report that, despite the pandemic, our team has been able to continue our work to implement the recovery plan, protect the remaining sawfish in the United States, and rebuild the population. One of the best ways to track the effectiveness of ongoing management and conservation efforts is to collect information about the sawfish encounters of divers, fishers, and others. Details of public encounters with sawfish can substantially increase the data we have about sawfish, allowing us to make management and policy decisions that are reflective of the realities in the water. Because of their countless hours in the water, we are seeking to partner with the diving community to collect information about their sawfish sightings.
Our team developed the guidelines below to inform divers about how to safely and legally enjoy encounters with sawfish:
·Keep your distance
·Avoid disturbing sawfish
·Never chase, feed, or touch them
·Share information about encounters
Divers should note that advertising expeditions aimed at encountering endangered smalltooth sawfish can be considered “targeting,” which is a violation of the ESA. Therefore, I strongly urge that the following conservation messaging be included in all advertisements and social media posts regarding sawfish interactions underwater: Sawfish are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Help protect this critically endangered species by following NOAA Fisheries viewing guidelines available at www.SawfishRecovery.org.
You can promote sawfish recovery by following these diver interaction guidelines, educating others about them. Please share your sawfish observations by visiting www.SawfishRecovery.org, calling 1-844-4SAWFISH, and/or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your encounter reports will be used to track recovery of the population and steer research efforts, which will ultimately benefit the species and the areas in which you dive and fish.
Tonya Wiley, President
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