Pristis pectinata 

Scope: Europe
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Rhinopristiformes Pristidae

Scientific Name: Pristis pectinata Latham, 1794
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Smalltooth Sawfish, Wide Sawfish
French Poisson-scie
Spanish Pejepeine, Pez Sierra, Sayyaf, Sayyafah
Taxonomic Source(s): Eschmeyer, W.N., Fricke, R. and Van der Laan, R. (eds). 2016. Catalog of Fishes: genera, species, references. Updated 29 September 2016. Available at: http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/ichthyology/catalog/fishcatmain.asp. (Accessed: 29 September 2016).
Taxonomic Notes: Faria et al. (2013) state that both morphology and genetics support the current specific status of the Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) and propose modification of the distribution of the species to an Atlantic only range. No geographical structure of Smalltooth Sawfish subpopulations is present, and Western and Eastern Atlantic subpopulations of Smalltooth Sawfish likely represent separate units for conservation purposes.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) A2b; D (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2015-03-24
Assessor(s): Kyne, P.M.
Reviewer(s): Walls, R.H.L.
Contributor(s): Dulvy, N.K., Ferretti, F., Carlson, J., Wiley, T. & Smith, K.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Walls, R.H.L. & Dulvy, N.K.
European regional assessment: Critically Endangered (CR)
Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) is possibly extinct or its presence is uncertain in its former range in the Atlantic Ocean as a result of targeted fishing and bycatch in trawl and netting fisheries, compounded by habitat modification. Across the Atlantic Ocean, an absence of records from scientific surveys, anecdotal fisher observations, and fish landings data over its historic range infer a population reduction of ≥ 95% over a period of three generations (1984-2015, 30 years). The species can only be reliably encountered in the Bahamas, USA and parts of Central America, and in the Eastern Atlantic, in Sierra Leone, and possibly Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. There is some uncertainty regarding the presence of sawfishes (Pristis spp.; referred to generically here due to a lack of species-specific information) in the Mediterranean Sea, with differing perspectives on whether sawfishes bred in the Mediterranean Sea, or whether they were regular visitors from elsewhere in the Eastern Atlantic. For the purposes of this assessment, the Mediterranean subpopulation is treated as a visitor from the Eastern Atlantic. The vast majority of accounts are historical, however a recent anecdotal record of a juvenile sawfish from a Tunisian fish market from ca. 1997 suggests that sawfish may still visit the Mediterranean Sea. Smalltooth Sawfish, as a visiting species, is assessed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) in the Mediterranean Sea under Criterion A2b+D based on the above-mentioned population reduction for the wider Atlantic Ocean and suspected small population size (< 50 mature individuals) in the Mediterranean Sea.
Date last seen: 1997

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The current range of Smalltooth Sawfish in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea is uncertain due to species misidentification, lack of reporting, and the general contraction of its range.

There is some uncertainty regarding the presence of sawfishes in the Mediterranean Sea (Tortonese 1956, Whitehead et al. 1984, Bilecenoğlu et al. 2002, Ferretti et al. 2015). Smalltooth Sawfish was included in historic faunal lists (Serena 2005) and the examination of historical records indicates that there were at least 78 bibliographic accounts of both species of sawfish over the past 500 years (Ferretti et al. 2015). These records include fresh captures of juvenile and adult specimens, which have led to the suggestion that a breeding population was present. It has been alternatively hypothesized that sawfish were a visitor species from areas of West Africa. Its depth range is 0.1-88 m.

Countries occurrence:
Albania; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; France (France (mainland)); Israel; Italy (Italy (mainland), Sicilia); Montenegro; Spain (Spain (mainland))
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Mediterranean and Black Sea
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):88
Upper depth limit (metres):0
Range Map:18175-1

Population [top]


For the purposes of this assessment, Smalltooth Sawfish has been considered a visitor to the Mediterranean Sea from its core Eastern Atlantic range in tropical West Africa. Sawfishes have been described from the Mediterranean Sea since antiquity (< 2,000 years ago) and in medieval bestiaries, but these records lack taxonomic, geographic and quantitative detail (Ferretti 2014). There are few (n=82 bibliographic records, 21 museum specimens) records from the Mediterranean Sea over the past 500 years, and almost half of these records are duplications (Ferretti 2014, 2015). Many of these records are of rostra only and there is concern that they may have come from international trade rather than being caught locally (Ferretti 2014).

There are historic records of freshly caught adults and juveniles, particularly from the Mediterranean coast of France. Possibly the most reliable records of Smalltooth Sawfish were taken from Provence, in the south of France. These were juveniles described by reputable ichthyologists in 1777 and 1810 (Ferretti 2014).

There are two relatively recent 20th century records of Smalltooth Sawfish from the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, these may represent records of Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron) or Narrow Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata). Unlike the Smalltooth Sawfish, these species occurred in the Red Sea, which has been connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal since 1867 (Ferretti 2014). Importantly, there is a recent record of a juvenile sawfish (Pristis spp.) from a Tunisian fish market from ca. 1997 (Ferretti et al. 2015), implying that they might still visit the Mediterranean region.

Fish landings data over its historic range infer a population reduction of ≥ 95% over a period of three generations (1984-2015, 30 years) in the Eastern Atlantic, and this decline is inferred to have occurred through the whole of the European distribution. The species is considered a visitor in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Information pertaining to the life history and habitat use of this species has not been published specific to Mediterranean waters, although it is inferred to be similar to, if not the same as, other regions from which it is documented extensively, such as Australia and Lake Nicaragua.

A key uncertainty in understanding whether sawfishes are residents in the Mediterranean Sea is the strong seasonality in temperature, which in the northernmost sectors cools to below 12°C, which is below the thermal ranges of marine regions where this species has been historically detected.

Moreno Iturria (2012) estimated its generation length to be 10.1 years.

Generation Length (years):10

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Sawfish rostra are culturally valued, economically valuable and hence are widely collected and frequently traded internationally (McDavitt and Charvet-Almeida 2004, McDavitt 2014).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

The principal threats to Smalltooth Sawfish are from fishing; it was formerly targeted, but is now mostly taken incidentally in broad-spectrum fisheries (CITES 2007). The long toothed rostrum of sawfish makes them extremely sensitive to entanglement in any sort of net gear, gillnetting and trawling in particular. Depleted subpopulations mean that commercial targeting of most stocks is no longer cost-effective and bycatch mortality is now the primary threat to Smalltooth Sawfish (CITES 2007). However, there are indications that sawfish are at times targeted opportunistically for the shark fin trade (CITES 2007).

Habitat degradation and loss also threaten sawfishes throughout their range (CITES 2007). The Smalltooth Sawfish relies on a variety of specific habitat types including estuaries and mangroves; these are all affected by human development (CITES 2007). Agricultural and urban development, commercial activities, dredge-and-fill operations, boating, erosion, and diversions of freshwater runoff as a result of continued coastal and catchment development has caused substantial loss or modification of these habitats (CITES 2007).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

All species of sawfish are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which effectively bans commercial international trade in sawfish or their parts.

Parties to the Barcelona Convention agreed in 2012 that sawfish as listed in Annex II of the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean Sea -- which includes Recommendation GFCM/36/2012/1 -- cannot be retained on board, transshipped, landed, transferred, stored, sold or displayed or offered for sale, and must be released unharmed and alive, to the extent possible.

Citation: Kyne, P.M. 2015. Pristis pectinata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18175A48956847. . Downloaded on 17 August 2018.
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