Media Release Fisheries

Marine conservationists call for better protection after sawfish found with rostrum hacked off

November 18, 2020

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has called for the urgent improvement of protections for threatened marine species after a critically endangered species of sawfish was found dead on a Queensland beach with its distinctive rostrum cruelly amputated.

The adult sawfish was found washed up on Belmunda Beach, just south of Cape Hillsborough near Mackay. Experts believe the species to be a green or a largetooth sawfish, although it is difficult to tell with the rostrum removed.

Sawfish are a protected species in Australian waters, meaning they must be returned to the water alive by commercial and recreational fishers. The inhumane killing of this sawfish and removal of its rostrum is illegal under Queensland law.

AMCS is calling for the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to undertake a thorough investigation and for the culprit to be held fully accountable.

Sawfish rostra have been deliberately removed by fishers if the species gets tangled in gillnets, an indiscriminate fishing method still used in Queensland which is well known to entangle and kill threatened species like sawfish, dugongs, turtles and dolphins.

Trophy hunters have also been known to remove the distinctive rostra for trophies or curios which are then kept or sold.

Sawfish use their rostrum for detecting and catching prey such as other fish and crustaceans, as well as for defense, so removing them is a death sentence if it survives the amputation.

“This would be a horrendous and cruel death for the sawfish and highlights the need for better protection of vulnerable and endangered species like sawfish,” said AMCS fisheries spokesperson Simon Miller.

“Fishing in the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef should be gold standard, not result in the cruel deaths of iconic Australian species. Barbaric practices like this could be stamped out with independent monitoring from cameras or independent observers on fishing boats.

“Australia is considered a lifeboat for sawfish, which have been wiped out in the waters of many other countries. We are urging the Queensland Government to reduce the number of gillnet licences on the Great Barrier Reef through a $10m structural adjustment package for the commercial fishing industry and provide protection to threatened species in habitats critical to their survival.”

Notes to editors

The shock discovery follows the loss of three dugongs and a Queensland groper in the Wide Bay Burnett region in September. The deaths had been linked to gillnets and shark nets.

Sawfish are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) but are listed as vulnerable under Australia’s environmental laws.

Picture: James Connell on Facebook