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Sawfish: A Global Strategy for Conservation

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journal contribution
posted on 26.06.2014, 23:46 by Lucy R. Harrison, Nicholas Dulvy

Like many of the earth’s natural resources, humankind has mistakenly viewed the ocean as having an infinite supply of reserves to satisfy our needs and wants. This has made the waters of our globe vulnerable to overexploitation and, as a consequence, many ocean species are now declining at an alarming and unsustainable rate. The sawfishes are one such group of species, and are now recognised as being among the most threatened marine species, facing a rapid descent to extinction if immediate action is not taken to address the severity of their plight. The wonderful morphology of these species, with their long, highly distinctive tooth-nosed snout, makes them a truly striking and iconic image of our seas. Unfortunately, this unique feature has sadly been the cause of their own ruin, being both easily entangled in net and highly-prized for medicinal and cultural purposes and sold as curios for the tourist trade. Other threats to the sawfishes are common to many marine species and include overfishing and habitat destruction. As a result, sawfishes are now one of the most threatened families of marine species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

Conservation must be built on sound knowledge and scientific research. The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a science-based network of more than 8,000 volunteer experts from over 160 countries. SSC members are deployed in over 130 Specialist Groups, and it is one of these groups – the IUCN Shark Specialist Group – that has prioritised sawfishes for urgent conservation action and has ably led the way in designing a focused global strategy to provide the best possible scientific basis to secure the survival of these iconic species. The SSC Conservation Action Plan series has been one of the world’s most respected sources of information on species and their conservation needs. Since the mid-1980s, the SSC has published more than 60 Action Plans for some of the world’s most charismatic species. Recently, the SSC has developed a new process better able to link science and management for the effective delivery of conservation action. The formerly known Action Plans are now known as Species Conservation Strategies. This past decade has been characterised by our growing alarm of the state of the oceans. However, we are now in a position where we can move from describing the status to actually doing something about it. This Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy is a crucial step on the path to conserving one of the most threatened families of marine fishes, the iconic sawfishes.