Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata)
Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Smalltooth Sawfish Critical Habitat
(click for larger view PDF)
Did You Know?
· Smalltooth sawfish were the first "elasmobranchs" to be listed under the ESA.
|Weight:||770 pounds (350 kg)|
|Length:||18-25 feet (5.5-7 m)|
|Appearance:||known for their "saws," long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth|
|Diet:||mostly fish, but also crustaceans|
|Behavior:||"ovoviviparous," meaning the mother holds the eggs inside of her until the young are ready to be born|
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 side.
Early sawfish arose around 100 million years ago, but these first sawfish are actually distant cousins to modern day sawfishes, though even the modern sawfish we know today first appeared around 56 million years ago.
Sawfish get their name from their "saws"--long, flat snouts edged with pairs of teeth which are used to locate, stun, and kill prey. They have 25-29 teeth per side. Males have broader teeth than females. Their diet includes mostly fish but also some crustaceans.
The smalltooth sawfish is one of two species of sawfish that inhabit U.S. waters (the other being the largetooth sawfish, although it has not been found in the United States in 50 years). The body of the smalltooth sawfish is an olive grey color dorsally, with a white ventral surface.
Smalltooth sawfish inhabit shallow coastal waters of tropical seas and estuaries throughout the world. They are usually found in shallow waters (less than 32 feet (10 m)), very close to shore over muddy and sandy bottoms. They are often found in sheltered bays, on shallow banks, and in estuaries or river mouths. They prefer warmer water temperature of 22-28°C (71-82°F). They are known to ascend inland in river systems and have been shown to have a salinity preference of 18-24 parts per thousand.
NMFS designated critical habitat for smalltooth sawfish in September 2009 (74 FR 45353).
In other parts of the Atlantic, smalltooth sawfish have only been confirmed in the Bahamas. However, anecdotal reports indicate smalltooth sawfish occur in localized areas off Honduras, Belize, and Cuba. There has been only one confirmed record of a smalltooth sawfish in the eastern Atlantic, in Sierra Leone, west Africa. They are also thought to occur in Guinea Bissau.
Historically, the U.S. population was common throughout the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida, and along the east coast from Florida to North Carolina.
Outside U.S. waters, smalltooth sawfish were historically reported in many areas, though sightings in areas other than the Atlantic Ocean were likely misidentifications of other sawfish:
- South Africa
- Red Sea
- coast of west Africa
- Caribbean Sea
- Mexico (in Gulf of Mexico)
No accurate estimates of abundance trends over time are available, but available data, including museum records and anecdotal observations from fishers, indicate that the population has declined dramatically by about 95%. Smallooth sawfish were once common throughout their historic range, but they have declined dramatically in U.S. waters over the last century. Still, there are few reliable data available, and no robust estimates of population size exist.
|Smalltooth sawfish entangled in fishing line
Photo: © Florida Museum of Natural History
- bycatch in various fisheries, especially in gill nets
- loss of juvenile habitat
Because adults can grow very large, and potentially damage fishing gear or even pose a threat to fishermen, many incidentally captured sawfish were killed before they were removed from fishing gear, even if the fishermen had no interest in keeping them.
Juvenile sawfish use shallow habitats with a lot of vegetation, such as mangrove forests, as important nursery areas. Many such habitats have been modified or lost due to development of the waterfront in Florida and other southeastern states. The loss of juvenile habitat likely contributed to the decline of this species.
NMFS convened the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team , comprising sawfish scientists, managers, and environmental managers, to develop a plan to recover the U.S. DPS of smalltooth sawfish. The team published the final recovery plan [pdf] in January 2009. The plan recommends specific steps to recover the DPS, focusing on:
- reducing fishing impacts
- protecting important habitats
- educating the public
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), it is illegal to catch or harm an endangered sawfish. However, some fishermen catch sawfish incidentally while fishing for other species. NMFS and the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team have developed guidelines to fishermen [pdf] telling them how to safely handle and release any sawfish they catch.
Some states have taken additional step to protect this species. Florida, Louisiana, and Texas have prohibited the "take" of sawfish. Florida's existing ban on the use of gill nets in state waters is an important conservation tool. Three National Wildlife Refuges in Florida also protect their habitat.
All sawfish (Pristidae) species are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which limits international trade of sawfish.
The smalltooth sawfish was added to the candidate species list in 1991, removed in 1997, and placed back on the list again in 1999. In November 1999, we received a petition from the Ocean Conservancy (formerly the Center for Marine Conservation) requesting that this species be listed as endangered under the ESA.
We completed a status review in December 2000. On April 16, 2001, NMFS published a proposed rule to list the U.S. distinct population segment (DPS) of this species as endangered. On April 1, 2003, NMFS published a final rule listing this DPS as an endangered species under the ESA.
In September 2010, we received a petition from WildEarth Guardians requesting that the non-U.S. population(s) of this species be listed under the ESA. On June 4, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule to list the non-U.S. DPS of this species as endangered.
|12-Month Finding and Proposed Endangered Listing of Five Species of Sawfish||78 FR 33300||06/04/2013|
90-day finding on petition to list the non-ESA-listed population(s)
|76 FR 12308||03/07/2011|
|5-Year Review for U.S. DPS||10/2010|
|Final Critical Habitat||74 FR 45353||09/02/2009|
|Final Recovery Plan||74 FR 3566||01/21/2009|
|Proposed Critical Habitat||73 FR 70290||11/20/2008|
|5-Year Review Initiated for U.S. DPS||73 FR 29482||05/21/2008|
|Draft Recovery Plan||71 FR 49418||08/23/2006|
|ESA Listing Rule for the U.S. DPS||68 FR 15674||04/01/2003|
|Proposed Endangered Status for U.S. DPS||66 FR 19414||04/16/2001|
|Status Review Report
(Note: Appendix A is best printed on 11x17" paper)
|90-Day findings for a Petition to list North American populations of smalltooth sawfish and largetooth sawfish as endangered under the ESA||65 FR 12959||03/10/2000|
|Petition to list North American populations of sawfish (Pristis pectinata and Pristis perotteti) as endangered||n/a||11/30/1999|
- Adams, W. F. and C. Wilson. 1995. The status of the smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata Latham 1794 (Pristiformes: Pristidae) in the United States. Chondros 6:1-5.
Updated: May 28, 2014