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Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron)

Status | Taxonomy | Species Description | Habitat | Distribution |
Population Trends | Threats | Conservation Efforts | Regulatory Overview |
Key Documents | More Info



ESA Endangered - throughout its range
CITES Appendix I - throughout its range

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Pristiformes
Family: Pristidae
Genus: Pristis
Species: zijsron

Species Description
Length: up to 23 ft (7 m); typically 15 ft (4.5 m)
Appearance:  known for their "saws," long, thin flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth, greenish upper body coloration
Lifespan: ~50 years; maturity is reached at 10-12 ft (3 3.6 m) and 5-9 years
Diet: mostly fish, but also crustaceans and mollusks
Behavior: "ovoviviparous", meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born; gestation lasts 5 months and littler sizes range from 1-12 pups

Sawfish, like sharks, skates and rays, belong to a group of fish called elasmobranchs, whose skeletons are made of cartilage. Sawfish are actually modified rays with a shark-like body and gill slits on their ventral (abdominal) side.

Early sawfish, distant cousins to modern day sawfish, first appeared in the ocean around 100 million years ago. Today's "modern day" sawfish species have been in the ocean around 56 million years.

Sawfish get their name from their rostrum or "saws"--long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth which are used to locate, stun, and kill prey. The green sawfish is also known as the narrow snout sawfish because it's rostrum is thinner than other sawfishes. Their rostrum is also relatively longer than other sawfishes and can comprise 20-30% of their total length.  Their diet includes mostly fish but also some crustaceans and mollusks.

In Africa, the species can be confused with the similar smalltooth sawfish (P. pectinata).

Some genetic data suggests green sawfish may show philopatry, where adult females return to or remain in the same area they were born.

Green sawfish are generally restricted to shallow (less than 33 ft (10 m)) coastal and estuarine habitats, although they have been found in freshwater up to 150 miles upriver and to depths of 130 ft. Like most sawfishes, the green sawfish prefers muddy bottoms in estuarine environments.

The green sawfish historically ranged throughout the Indo-West Pacific from South Africa northward along the east coast of Africa, through the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, southern Asia, Indo-Australian archipelago, and east to Asia as far north as Taiwan and southern China. Green sawfish range has contracted and they are currently presumed to be extirpated in the Indian Ocean and the only recent records in the Indo-Pacific area outside of Australia are from Malaysia. In Australia recent records of the species are from the north and northwest coasts, especially the Gulf of Carpentaria. There is anecdotal evidence the species still occurs in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea (e.g., Sudan).

Population Trends
No robust estimates of historic or current population size exist. However, available data, museum and catch reports, and other records indicate that the species' distribution has been greatly reduced and that the population numbers have declined dramatically.


  • entanglement in nets, lines, and trawls
    • bycatch in fisheries, though in some areas they have been directly targeted
  • loss of habitat
    • juvenile sawfish use shallow habitats as important nursery areas, many of these have been modified or lost due to development
  • inadequate regulatory mechanisms

Their low rate of population growth has also likely contributed to their decline.

Conservation Efforts
All sawfish (Pristidae) species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix I limits international trade in species to exceptional circumstances only.

Regulatory Overview
In September 2010, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians requesting that this species be listed under the ESA. On June 4, 2013, we published a proposed rule to list the species as endangered.

In December 2014, we published the final rule to list the species as endangered.

Key Documents
(All documents are in PDF format.)

Title Federal Register Date
Final Listing of 5 Species of Sawfish 79 FR 73978 12/12/2014
12-Month Finding and Proposed Endangered Listing of Five Species of Sawfish 78 FR 33300 06/04/2013
90-day finding on Petition, Initiation of Status Review 76 FR 12308 03/07/2011
Petition to list Six Species of Sawfish n/a 09/07/2010

More Information

Updated: December 16, 2014

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