Posted on 19 October 2020
Karachi, October 19
: ‘It is likely that sawfish have become locally extinct in our sea waters. No specimen of this endangered species has been reported by fishermen in last two years.’ This was stated by experts during webinar on the International Sawfish Day observed on Monday 19 October. Experts said that due to multiple threats to the sawfish species, they were already on the brink of extinction. They urged that joint efforts should be taken to conserve these magnificent marine animals.
This day is celebrated to raise awareness about these critically endangered elasmobranches and highlight the threats they face. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, some species of sawfish are classified as critically endangered
while others are endangered
. These species are also included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix-I and are protected under Sindh and Balochistan Fisheries laws since 2016.
Three species of sawfish including the knife-tooth (Anoxypristis cuspidatus
), large-tooth (Pristis pristis
) and large-comb (Pristis zijsron)
were reported in the past from Pakistan. Once abundantly found in Pakistani waters, sawfish species have become extinct locally. Therefore, WWF-Pakistan urges taking necessary steps for the conservation of these marine animals.
Sawfish, which are related to sharks, have a unique long, narrow, flattened rostrum, or nose extension, lined with sharp transverse teeth, arranged in a way that resembles a saw. There have been at least five records of large-tooth sawfish (Pristis pristis
) from Pakistan in the last decade. In May 2018, a 15-foot-long female large-tooth sawfish was caught by a fisherman near Khajar Creek. Another specimen was caught from the same area a few years earlier in June 2013. Similarly, two specimens were caught in September 2009 and January 2016 from Sur Bunder, near Gwadar, Balochistan.
Commenting on challenges facing the sawfish species, Andy Cornish, Leader of Sharks: Restoring the Balance, WWF and TRAFFIC's joint Shark and Ray Conservation Programme, said that all five sawfish species are either critically endangered or endangered, which is one or two steps away from extinction. The main threats to sawfish include habitat degradation, pollution, commercial, recreational and unregulated fishing. He lamented that large-tooth sawfish have disappeared from most of Africa and Asia, including Pakistan, with last hope spots remaining in South America, Australia and South Asia. “Environmental DNA (eDNA) studies of sawfish can help conserve these magnificent animals and develop their management plans,” he added.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), WWF-Pakistan said that these splendid marine animals are on the brink of extinction globally, whereas three species (knife-tooth, large tooth and large-comb) of sawfish are now considered to be locally extinct. He informed that to confirm the presence of sawfish in some hotspots in Pakistani waters, WWF-Pakistan conducted environmental DNA (eDNA) studies which revealed that no sawfish existed there. However, he emphasized the need to re-conduct eDNA study considering seasonal variations and other factors.
Khan further said that there was once a considerably large sawfish fishery in Pakistan, mainly found in Miani Hor (Sonmiani), Kalmat Khor, Jiwani, Gwadar and along the entire Indus Delta, particularly Khajar Creek. He also pointed out that the sawfish population is declining rapidly throughout the world because of overfishing, entanglement in nets, fishing gear, habitat loss, and curio trade. “They also are also in demand for sharkfin soup in East Asia,” he added.
In addition to fishing, habitat degradation is also an important factor that has resulted in the decline or possible local extinction of sawfish as local power plants and other industries are continuously being built in locations, where sawfishes were previously found, such as Gwadar. A national or regional conservation action plan for the protection of habitat, minimization of bycatch, and ending illegal fin and rostrum trading must be developed. Since 2016, the governments of Sindh and Balochistan have already included sawfish in the list of species that cannot be fished, landed and marketed.