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Critically endangered giant sawfish caught and sold by fishermen

Photo credit: Sydney Aquarium.
The WWF statement maintains that the fish was dead when it was caught but the claim has not yet been corroborated by the provincial fisheries department.
By TR Pakistan

A 15-feet long giant female large-tooth sawfish was caught in the net of a shrimp trawler between the mouth of Turchan and Khajar Creek on Saturday.

According to a statement by WWF-Pakistan, due to the large size and heavy weight of the animal, locally known as liara, fishermen used a crane to heave it in their boat. The sawfish was estimated to weigh approximately 1,320 kg. It was offloaded at Ibrahim Hyderi and then auctioned.

The WWF statement maintains that the fish was dead when it was caught but the claim has not yet been corroborated by the provincial fisheries department.

Studies reveal that juvenile sawfish are found in freshwater systems and adults in marine and estuarine environments. There has been a significant decline in sawfish populations worldwide due to overfishing and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed all sawfish species as ‘critically endangered’. Sawfish are also included in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which prohibits any commercial trade in these species.

Read more: Population of Indus River Dolphins Increasing, but Threats Still Remain: WWF

Considering their status, landing, marketing and sale of the species has been banned in Sindh. A similar ban is also imposed in Balochistan.

Three species of sawfish, namely knife-tooth (Anoxypristis cuspidatus), large-tooth (Pristis pristis) and large-comb (Pristis zijsron) have been reported from Pakistan. There was an abundance of sawfish in Pakistan prior to the 1980s but because of the vulnerability of this species, especially due to the presence of a large rostra (saw) in front of their head, its population rapidly collapsed, and since 1985, there are no commercial fisheries in existence. It is believed that sawfish are practically extinct in Pakistan.

During the last decade, a WWF-Pakistan programme has documented a few specimens, incidentally caught by fishermen and reported to authorities. However, an alarming incident took place on June 22, 2013, also near Khajar Creek, where a 450 kg large sawfish was caught. In 1962, a large specimen of sawfish was caught in Hyderabad near Ghulam Muhammad Barrage about 170 km from the coastline.

According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the technical adviser (marine fisheries) at WWF-Pakistan, the main areas of sawfish fishing in Pakistan is Miani Hor (Sonmiani), Kalmat Khor, Jiwani, Gwadar, and all along the Indus Delta, especially Khajar Creek.

He states that sawfish meat used to be exported to Sri Lanka, along with other sharks in salted-dried form, and its fins to Hong Kong.

Dr. Babar Khan, the director for the wildlife program at WWF-Pakistan, stresses the need to keep a vigil on the landing centers so that fishermen may not catch sawfish and dispose them. In order to create more awareness, WWF-Pakistan has prepared an information chart which will be displayed at all major landing centers. Dr. Khan also emphasizes the need for a proactive role of the authorities concerned to take punitive action for such violations.

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