16 October 2023

World first data on threatened sawfish species will help conservation efforts

| Chisa Hasegawa
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A sawfish is tagged by scientists so they can track their movements in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

THE movements of more than 40 sawfish have been tracked for the first time, providing data that’s considered critical to the conservation of the species.

Researchers from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and Charles Darwin University have worked with commercial fishers in Cape York and the Northern Territory to tag and track the species, and one massive sawfish left scientists “completely astonished”.

CSIRO research scientist Dr Richard Pillans said out of the 40 tagged so far, the biggest was a massive 5.7 metres long.

“Amazingly, this giant sawfish swam 1000km over a two-month period from the west side of Cape York to near Croker Island, off the coast of the Northern Territory,” he said.

The findings came in time for National Sawfish Day on Tuesday, October 17.

Sawfish are extinct in many places worldwide and although still survive in northern Australia, conservation managers are concerned about low population numbers as the species is often caught in fishing nets by accident.

Dr Pillans explained that the sawfish’s extended snout has teeth along its edge, “so when they come into contact with a net, they can get very entangled”.

Fishers are now recording the sawfish they catch, collecting tissue samples and tagging animals with satellite transmitters to determine post-release survival rates and the distance they travel.

“What we don’t know is how many sawfish there are and what impact bycatch is having on their population status,” he said.

“This collaboration is crucial in helping conserve Australia’s remaining sawfish population.”

Sawfish can get caught in gillnets, but almost all of them survive and are released back into the wild.

The call to find sawfish will go out to the public on National Sawfish Sighting Week from October 23-29.

In partnership with recreational fishing group SCF Australia, Sharks and Rays Australia are asking “invaluable citizen scientists” across Australia to report sawfish sightings.

Sharks and Rays Australia director and principal scientist Dr Barbara Wueringer said this was the next step in finding out more about sawfish and how to protect them.

She explained that data on not seeing a sawfish WAs just as important as seeing them.

“We also want people to report back where they didn’t find any sawfish as that allows us to identify where the hot spots are,” she said.

Registrations can be done at https://www.sharksandraysaustralia.com/sawfish-week/ and close at midnight on October 17.

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