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Threats to Sawfishes

Sawfishes are threatened all around the world. Their major threats are:

  • human activities such as habitat modification (weirs) and disturbance from coastal development and water quality issues related to pollution from the land.
  • Sawfish are hunted for their fins, meat, rostrums and as live specimens for aquariums.

The freshwater sawfish, found in the Indo-West Pacific including northern Australia, is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The Green, Dwarf and Smalltooth Sawfish are also listed in this category.


Dried sharks' fins
for sale in the streets
of Hong Kong

Sawfish are hunted for their unique rostrums, fins, flesh and other body parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicines. Rostrums are often sold as souvenirs, trophies or curios. They are also collected as live specimens for aquariums.

A rostrum can sell for more than $1000 on international markets while fins are used in shark fin soup. Even in December 2007 you could bid for a sawfish rostrum on eBay in Australia. Trading in such animals can be a very profitabel (and often illegal) activity.

While a fisherman in India may earn only about $13 for a kilogram of shark fin, a bowl of soup can cost $100 in a restaurant in Hong Kong .


Immature Narrow sawfish caught by recreational angler in the NT. Recreational line fishermen sometimes capture sawfish as an incidental catch when chasing other finfish species on the sand or mudflats.

The rostrum has been removed
as a ‘trophy' (Fitzroy River)

A bowl of shark fin soup

Habitat Modification and Pollution

A barrage / road crossing

Habitat modification includes building weirs and barrages. Barrages have been shown to severely restrict the movements of sawfish and many other fish species. Sawfish have been found 400 km inland in the Fitzroy River in Western Australia.

Other problems include:

  • Land clearing - increased sediment runoff
  • Use of fertilisers - increased nutrient runoff
  • Use of pesticides - reduced health and death of organisms
  • Urban and industrial development - soil sealing, increased human population and industrial activity .

Polluted estuary
The loss of important habitats such as soft bottom areas which sawfish use for feeding and breeding is another threat.

Entanglement in Fishing Nets

Cairns Marine special operations manager Geoff Oke and Stirling Peverell are untangling the mesh from the rostrum of a 5.4m mature female green sawfish cought off Yorkey Knob, Cairns. The sawfish was caught and reported to Cairns Marine by a local commercial fisher. The sawfish was tagged and released unharmed.

It was the first record of capture of this species and size on the QLD east coast in 30 years.

Other than habitat loss, the greatest threat to sawfish is entanglement in fishing nets as their rostrum is easily tangled in nets. This includes marine trawling nets and they have also occasionally been found tangled in shark nets off the Queensland coast.

When a sawfish swims into a net it will probably become entangled with netting around its rostrum. They then thrash their rostrum around to escape and this struggle can lead to the sawfish becoming more tangled. If the sawfish is entangled underwater and is unable to swim, it is likely to drown as it cannot move water over its gills.

This sawfish has become tangled in some
thrown away fishing line. You can see
how it has damaged the rostrum.


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About Sawfish
Sawfish anatomy
Narrow Sawfish
Freshwater Sawfish
Green Sawfish
Dwarf Sawfish
Threats to Sawfish
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