Management Overview

The U.S. distinct population segment of smalltooth sawfish has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 2003. The non-U.S. distinct population segment (e.g., Bahamas) was listed as endangered in 2014. This means that both distinct population segments are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range. NOAA Fisheries is working to protect this species in many ways, with the goal of increasing these populations to a point where the protections of the ESA are no longer needed to ensure survival.

Recovery Planning and Implementation

Recovery Action

Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries develops and implements recovery plans for the conservation and survival of listed species. The goal of the smalltooth sawfish plan is to recover the U.S. DPS so that its status can first be reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened,” and then ultimately removed from the list of protected species.

The ESA authorizes NOAA Fisheries to appoint recovery teams to assist with the development of species recovery plans. We convened the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team—consisting of scientists and environmental managers—to develop a recovery plan for this species. The team published the first Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Plan (PDF, 2.4MB) in 2009 and is currently updating it to incorporate new information.


Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries can also appoint teams to help implement recovery plans. The Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery and Implementation Team works with state and federal resource management agencies to develop regulations to reduce interactions between sawfish and commercial fisheries. The team also works with government agencies, conservation organizations, and fishing groups to implement an education and outreach plan. These efforts aim to increase awareness and help sawfish survive human interactions.

Learn more about the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery and Implementation Team

Critical Habitat Designation

Once a species is listed under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries evaluates and identifies whether any areas meet the definition of critical habitat. Those areas may be designated as critical habitat through a rulemaking process. The designation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, wilderness reserve, preservation, or other conservation area; nor does the designation affect land ownership. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these designated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

In 2009, NOAA Fisheries designated two areas along the southwestern coast of Florida as critical habitat for the U.S. DPS of smalltooth sawfish. We designated these areas because they provide important juvenile nursery habitat, where young sawfish can find food easily and avoid predators.

View the smalltooth sawfish critical habitat map (PDF, 1 page).

Conservation Efforts

Reducing Commercial Fishing Impacts

A number of commercial fisheries incidentally catch smalltooth sawfish, as the species is extremely vulnerable to entanglement in nets, lines, and trawls. Various fishing gear modifications and fishing regulations have been implemented to minimize the impacts to sawfish from the commercial fishing industry. For example, Florida has banned the use of gill nets in state waters. Safe handling and release guidelines also have been developed for fishermen. These guidelines explain how to remove a sawfish from different types of fishing gear, and also ask that fishermen record details about encounters in their logbooks.

NOAA Fisheries provides protocols for commercial fishing vessels to reduce the impacts of hook-and-line gear on smalltooth sawfish.

Learn more about the commercial fishing vessel protocols

Reducing Recreational Fishing Impacts

Because smalltooth sawfish accidentally caught while fishing must be released as quickly as possible, NOAA Fisheries developed guidelines explaining how recreational anglers can safely handle and release the species.

Learn more about the guidance in English (PDF)

Learn more about the guidance in Spanish (PDF)

Educating the Public

Together with state partners and conservation groups, we have developed programs to educate the public about the endangered status of smalltooth sawfish, as well as prohibitions against capturing, harming, or harassing them.

Find more education and outreach resources

International Collaboration

Through international cooperation and conservation efforts, NOAA Fisheries and the International Union for Conservation of Nature are working with our partners to protect smalltooth sawfish. In response to the dramatic depletion of all sawfish species, the International Union’s Shark Specialist Group recently initiated a Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy. Key policy recommendations and conservation activities include:

  • Training people in local fisheries to conduct sawfish surveys in key regions, including West Africa.

  • Helping these key regions develop national and regional plans to recover sawfish.

  • To prevent illegal trade, creating manuals to help fishermen, customs agents, and enforcement personnel identify sawfish and sawfish parts.

  • Reducing sawfish bycatch in trawl and gillnet fisheries in southeast Asia and other bycatch hotspots around the world.

Also, because of the threat to sawfish from trade, all sawfish species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Commercial trade in all sawfish, except for one Australian species traded for commercial aquaria, is prohibited. NOAA played a leading role in the listing of sawfish species under CITES.

Regulatory History

In 1999, NOAA Fisheries received a petition (PDF, 34KB) from the Ocean Conservancy (then the Center for Marine Conservation) requesting that both smalltooth sawfish and largetooth sawfish be listed as endangered.

The formal review of smalltooth sawfish began in March 2000, and we completed a status review (PDF, 528KB) that December.

In April 2001, we published a proposed rule to list the U.S. DPS of this species as endangered.  After a public comment period on the proposed rule, we published the final rule listing this DPS as an endangered species under the ESA in 2003.

Under the ESA, we perform 5-year reviews of species listed as threatened or endangered to ensure the classification of these species remains accurate. We completed a 5-year review (PDF, 765KB) for smalltooth sawfish in 2010 and a second 5-year review is currently in draft.

In September 2010, we received a petition (PDF, 2.3MB) from WildEarth Guardians requesting that the non-U.S. population(s) of this species be listed under the ESA. Following a full status review of non-U.S. smalltooth sawfish, we listed the non-U.S. distinct population segment of smalltooth sawfish as endangered in 2014.

Key Documents

A complete list of regulatory and management documents for smalltooth sawfish is available.