by: Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation
Respect-Release-Report: Guidelines for Interactions with Endangered Sawfish in the United States
Sawfish are majestic marine animals that were once found in coastal waters of the United States from Texas to North Carolina. Unfortunately, decades of mortality in fisheries and the loss of important nursery habitats led to dramatic reductions in both their numbers and range. Now they are generally only found in Florida and most commonly in southwest Florida around Everglades National Park. Sawfish are federally protected as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and need your help to survive and avoid extinction. It is illegal to target, harm, harass, or handle sawfish in any way. The guidelines below will teach you how to Respect, Release, and Report sawfish you encounter while diving or catch while fishing.
These guidelines will aid divers in safely, respectfully, and legally enjoying their encounter with a sawfish. The most important thing to remember when viewing a sawfish is to not disrupt its natural behavior. If a sawfish swims away because of your presence, then you are too close. So, if you are lucky enough to see a sawfish while diving, please keep your distance and don’t chase, feed, or touch any sawfish you encounter.
While it is technically illegal to catch a sawfish, captures do occur while fishing for other species. These guidelines will teach you about quick, safe, and legal release of incidentally caught sawfish. If you catch a sawfish, leave the sawfish, especially the gills in the water at all times. Removing sawfish from the water is a clear violation of the law so do not lift it out of the water onto your boat or a pier, and do not drag it ashore. Only if it can be done safely and with the sawfish in the water, untangle any fishing line wrapped around the rostrum or saw. You may need to cut the line along the saw with scissors or a knife to be able to free the line from the sawfish. Always cut the line as close to the hook as is safely possible. Any sawfish caught while fishing must be released as quickly as possible. Don’t use a gaff or ropes to secure or handle a sawfish as this may cause injury to the animal and delays the release. It is illegal to remove a sawfish’s rostrum; sawfish use their rostrum for detecting and catching food so removing the rostrum ultimately leads to starvation.
If you see or catch a sawfish, note its estimated total length, and the date, time, and your location with GPS coordinates if available. Scientists use your sawfish encounter data to track recovery of the population, and steer research and conservation efforts. Please share the information by visiting www.SawfishRecovery.org, calling 1-844-4SAWFISH, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or entering the details in the FWC Reporter App.
The ultimate goal is to recover the United States population of smalltooth sawfish to the point that it no longer needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Following these Respect, Release, Report guidelines will help prevent extinction and aid in population rebuilding and ultimately recovery. For more information visit visiting www.SawfishRecovery.org.
Tonya Wiley, President
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