Atlanta (Nov. 13, 2017).  Shark and ray experts from around the world gathered at Georgia Aquarium last week to evaluate and intensify international initiatives to save some the world’s most threatened aquatic animals: the sawfishes. Participants of the workshop, convened by the Shark Specialist Group (SSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are building upon a 2014 Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy to develop model, regional programs for reversing severe, worldwide declines in sawfish populations.

“We are delighted to facilitate the critical species conservation work of the IUCN, especially efforts to bring the iconic sawfish back from the brink of extinction,” said Dr. Alistair Dove, Vice President for Research and Conservation at Georgia Aquarium. “Responsible husbandry is a vital element of the Global Sawfish Strategy, and we are fortunate to be able to share these remarkable animals so that they can inspire the public to take action on their behalf.”

Sawfish -- warm water, shark-like rays characterized by long, toothed snouts (“rostra”) -- are large rays that can reach over seven meters in length. Once found in the coastal waters and rivers of more than 90 tropical and subtropical countries, all five species are today classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Targeted and incidental fishing is the main threat to sawfish. Their rostra – which they use to detect and wound prey are easily entangled in many types of fishing gear. The loss of critical nearshore habitats, particularly mangroves, also poses a threat to sawfish survival, as does strong demand for their fins, for use in shark fin soup. Sawfish, like other rays and sharks, are especially susceptible to overfishing because they tend to grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young.

“Sawfish have been revered by coastal cultures for millennia and yet quietly devastated in just a few decades,” said Dr. Nick Dulvy, IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University. “Sawfish recovery is most likely to occur under a coordinated conservation-planning regime that shares the lessons learned, particularly from regions where declines have been stemmed, to areas of priority need. With sawfish species already extinct in dozens of countries, we have no more time to waste.”

Sawfishes are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix I, which essentially amounts to a ban on commercial international trade. Since launching the Strategy in 2014, the SSG has welcomed sawfish listings under the Convention on Migratory Species, attention through various regional treaties, and national protections in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Costa Rica.

“Over the last decade, sawfish conservation policies have greatly improved in several countries and globally, but much more action is urgently needed to safeguard these irreplaceable species,” said Sonja Fordham, SSG Deputy Chair and President of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. “We are therefore excited to engage key governments and stakeholders in developing focused, priority projects envisioned this week for the Caribbean and Western Indian Ocean that build upon recent regional developments to improve the global outlook for sawfish.”

IUCN SSG leaders plan to present the key results of this week’s meetings, including recommendations for priority activities, next summer at the Sharks International Meeting in Brazil and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on Fisheries meeting in Rome.

###

Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its hundreds of exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its seven major galleries. For more information, visit georgiaaquarium.org

Made up of 128 experts from 35 countries, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group aims to secure the conservation, management and, where necessary, the recovery of the world's sharks, rays and chimaeras by mobilizing global technical and scientific expertise to provide the knowledge that enables action: www.iucnssg.org/. The SSG Global Conservation Sawfish Strategy and supporting materials are available at www.iucnssg.org/conservation-strategies-sawfish.html

Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to advance science-based policies to prevent overexploitation of sharks and rays: www.sharkadvocates.org