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Sawfish struggles to stay afloat

Pristis clavata, a sawfish species. It is targeted for its rostrum, fins and liver oil. Photo: Lyle Squire   | Photo Credit: Lyle Squire

Sawfish are struggling to keep afloat in coastal waters across the globe, including India.

Conservationists are working out strategies to protect them, as there has been a 90 per cent fall in their population. The sighting of the species has also become uncommon in Indian waters, where it was once in good numbers.

Worried at the sharp decline of sawfish, a few marine conservationists of Kochi have launched a campaign to conserve them. Besides bringing out rules for the safe release of the fish caught accidentally, the group — Society for Marine Research and Conservation — is reaching out to fishermen, vendors and agents and students, highlighting need to conserve the species.

All the seven varieties of sawfish, including four from India, have been listed as critically endangered on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also considered the most threatened marine fish.

The distinctive feature of the fish is its saw-like rostrum, a modified tooth-like structure called denticles. With its rostrum, the fish detects the movement of prey on the ocean floor. They spring from the bottom and slash the prey with the saw. The fish are targeted for their rostrum, fins and liver oil, says an IUCN communiqué.

In India, the sawfish has been brought under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act. The species available in Indian waters include Anoxypristis cuspidata ( Valu sravu in Malayalam), Pristis zijsron ( Vella sorrah in Tamil), Pristis microdon ( Komben sravu in Malayalam) and Pristis pectinata.

Though most of these species were once abundant in India's coastal waters, they are rarely seen these days, says K.K. Bineesh, who attended the IUCN Shark Specialist Group workshop on the global sawfish conservation strategy in London last week.

A three-year survey of fishermen, buyers and agents, conducted by the Society, indicated that the species had landed at Veraval, Mumbai, Mangalore, Kochi, Thoothoor, Chennai and Visakhapatnam.

The increased fishing pressure, the extension of fishing grounds and the increased efficiency of fishing fleet are pushing the species to the brink, says Mr. Bineesh, who heads the Society.

Awareness programmes are held for fishermen who use gill nets where the species are usually caught. Stickers with conservation messages are pasted on fishing vessels. The Society is also campaigning for remuneration for the fishermen who release the fish caught by them.

Marine researcher K.V. Akhilesh says nearly 70 per cent of the species released back in the water without injuries will survive. But many fishermen, lured by money, bring them to land, as they fetch a good price.

As per the guidelines for the safe release of the fish, it should be kept in the water, if hooked. The line should be untangled if it is wrapped around the saw. Then, the line should be cut closer to the hook, which should be removed with a long-handled de-hooker.

In case of the fish getting entangled in a net, its gills should be immersed in water during the rescue period and the net should be removed and the fish released quickly.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 10:06:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sawfish-struggles-to-stay-afloat/article3487007.ece

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