A scientist at The Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory has won a three-year, $674,989 grant to study the endangered but little-known sawfish, whose numbers are believed to have declined globally more than 90 percent.
The formidable-looking sawfish is related to the stingrays but more closely resembles a shark. It has been overexploited in many parts of the world due to the commercial appeal of its prominent, toothy rostrum (snout). It also has an unlucky affinity for heavily fished tropical waters and ecologically threatened shorelines.
Marine ecologist Dean Grubbs and his Florida State team will focus their research on the ecology of the smalltooth sawfish, the only domestic marine fish currently listed in the U.S. Endangered Species Act but, until now, rarely investigated. Its once-extensive range in the United States now is primarily restricted to southwest Florida and the Florida Keys.
"Worldwide, there are only six or seven extant species of sawfishes and all are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species," Grubbs said. "This means we are in danger of losing an entire order of animals that are among the largest of all fishes, including some sawfish species that reach lengths of more than 20 feet."
Grubbs said populations have declined due to overfishing and habitat loss.
"We could view sawfish as a marine analog to rhinoceros and elephants," he said. "Like the tusks of the elephant or the horns of the rhino, sawfishes have been overfished worldwide primarily for their toothed rostrum, the saw. Sawfish rostra are purchased whole as curios or even powdered for medicinal use and can bring several thousand dollars.
"Their 'saw' also makes these fishes highly susceptible to bycatch in many fishing gears," Grubbs said. "In addition, they depend on habitats such as mangrove-fringed shorelines that are high
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Florida State University