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ESA Turns 50; A Conversation in Sawfish Conservation

May 23, 2023

Experts meet to celebrate smalltooth sawfish and talk about the future of the species.

Scientists hold a sawfish in the water while tagging Sawfish tagging. Credit: Tonya Wiley.

Smalltooth sawfish are an endangered species found in the Southeast United States, primarily Florida. Twenty years ago this species was listed under the Endangered Species Act).  Earlier this month sawfish experts met in the Everglades to celebrate the species, assess new information, evaluate the success of conservation efforts to date, and conduct field work. 

Biologists marked the occasion with a viewing of a new documentary on regional sawfish research, including interviews with NOAA scientists. The film features a day in the life of a sawfish biologist working in the field.  

Sawfish Experts, Field Work 2023

The smalltooth sawfish is one of five sawfish species. Sawfish belong to a group of fish called elasmobranchs that includes rays, skates, and sharks. Although shark-like in appearance, sawfish are actually rays and they get their name from their distinct rostrum. It’s a long, flat snout edged with teeth that looks like a saw.

Smalltooth sawfish live in tropical seas and estuaries of the Atlantic Ocean. In the United States, they can be found in Florida’s coastal waters, particularly in southwest Florida and the Everglades.

Smalltooth sawfish populations declined dramatically during the second half of the 20th century due to habitat loss associated with coastal development and accidental capture in fisheries. Conservation efforts over the last 20 years have stopped the decline and researchers are beginning to see positive signs in the population. However, there are ongoing threats that we must monitor to ensure population recovery. 

Mark your calendar! International Sawfish Day is on October 17, 2023. All over the world people will be celebrating the species and sharing conservation messages.

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on May 25, 2023