Pristis pristis 

Scope: Mediterranean
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Rhinopristiformes Pristidae

Scientific Name: Pristis pristis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Largetooth Sawfish
Pristis microdon Latham, 1794
Pristis perotteti Valenciennes, in Müller & Henle, 1841
Pristis zephyreus Jordan & Starks, 1895
Squalus pristis Linnaeus, 1758
Taxonomic Source(s): Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordinus, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Impensis Direct, Laurentii Salvii, Holmiae.
Taxonomic Notes: In a recent study, Faria et al. (2013) demonstrated that the existing taxonomy of the Pristidae required modification, recognising a total of five species in two genera. Pristis pristis had been recognised previously as consisting of up to three species (Pristis pristis, P. microdon and P. perotteti), but utilising a combination of mitochondrial DNA and morphological characters appears to be one species. While the P. pristis group is best considered a single species, it can be composed of a network of geographical units (subpopulations) that are not genetically distinct, but may be considered ecologically different.
Pristis pristis, has been referred to by many other names throughout its range. It was formerly known as P. perotteti in the Atlantic and sometimes in the Eastern Pacific, and P. microdon in the Indo-West Pacific.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) A2b; D (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-03-25
Assessor(s): Kyne, P.M.
Reviewer(s): Walls, R.H.L. & Allen, D.J.
Contributor(s): Dulvy, N.K., Ferretti, F., Carlson, J. & Smith, K.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Walls, R.H.L. & Dulvy, N.K.

Mediterranean regional assessment: Critically Endangered (CR)

The Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) is a large (at least 6.5 m total length) euryhaline species, with juveniles occurring in freshwater systems and adults in marine and estuarine environments. It is possibly extinct or its presence is uncertain throughout the Mediterranean Sea. It formerly had a widespread tropical range, consisting of four subpopulations (eastern Atlantic, western Atlantic, eastern Pacific and Indo-West Pacific); all subpopulations have undergone significant declines and the species is now apparently extinct in many former range states. 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 (i.e., 1964 to present). In the eastern Atlantic, there have been very few (<10) records in the past decade. There is some uncertainty regarding the presence of sawfishes (Pristis spp.; referred to generically here due to a lack of species-specific data) in the Mediterranean Sea. There are differing perspectives on whether sawfishes historically bred in the Mediterranean Sea, or whether they were regular visitors from elsewhere in the eastern Atlantic. For the purposes of this assessment, the Largetooth Sawfish is treated as a visitor in the Mediterranean Sea. 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. The Largetooth Sawfish, as a visiting species, can be considered Critically Endangered in the Mediterranean Sea based on the above-mentioned population reduction for the wider Atlantic Ocean and suspected small population size (<50 mature individuals) in the Mediterranean Sea under Criteria A2b+D.

Date last seen: 1997

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) comprises four distinct subpopulations: eastern Atlantic, western Atlantic, eastern Pacific and Indo-West Pacific.

There is some uncertainty regarding the presence of sawfishes in the Mediterranean Sea (Tortonese 1956, Whitehead et al. 1984, Bilecenoğlu et al. 2002). The Largetooth 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 (also the Smalltooth Sawfish, P. pectinata) over the past 500 years (Ferretti et al. 2015). These records include fresh captures of juvenile and adult specimens, which has led to the suggestion that a breeding population was present. It has been alternatively hypothesized that sawfish were visitor species from areas of West Africa, and this seems more likely for the Largetooth Sawfish given the generally tropical nature of this species.

In West Africa, there have been only two countries with confirmed records for the region in the last ten years (Guinea-Bissau in 2003, 2004, and 2005; and Sierra Leone in 2003) and unconfirmed records (Pristis spp.) from Mauritania in 2010 (Tamburello et al. 2014).

FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):26
Range Map:18584848-3

Population [top]


For the purposes of this assessment, the Largetooth 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 have been few records (n=82 bibliographic, 21 museum specimens) from the Mediterranean Sea over the past 500 years, and almost half of these records are duplications (Ferretti 2014, Ferretti et al. 2015). Many of these records are of rostra only and there is suspicion that they may have come from international trade rather than being caught locally (Ferretti 2014).

The first record of the Largetooth Sawfish in the Mediterranean Sea was in 1573 and the last recorded capture was in 1959 (Ferretti 2014). Records come mainly from western Mediterranean coasts (France, Italy, and Spain). Catch records of sawfishes were reported from eastern Languedoc, Provence, the Gulf of Naples, and the Adriatic Sea. Importantly, there is a recent record of a juvenile sawfish (Pristis spp.) from a Tunisian fish market from ca. 1997 (Ferretti et al. 2015), which supports the notion that this species may still visit the Mediterranean region.

Fish landings data over the Largetooth Sawfish's historic range infer a population reduction of ≥95% over a period of three generations (i.e., 1964 to present) in the eastern Atlantic, and this decline is inferred to have occurred throughout the Mediterranean range, even when treating the species as a visitor in this sea.

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:49

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 (see global Red List assessment for more detail). 

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. This temperature is below the thermal ranges of marine regions where the Largetooth Sawfish has been historically detected. 

The generation length of this species is estimated to be 17 years (see global Red List assessment for more detailed life history parameters).

Generation Length (years):17

Use and Trade [top]

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

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

The principal threats to the Largetooth Sawfish are from fishing. This species was formerly targeted but is now mostly taken incidentally in broad-spectrum fisheries (CITES 2007). The long, toothed rostra of sawfishes make them extraordinarily sensitive to entanglement in any sort of net gear, gillnetting and trawling in particular. The exploitation of elasmobranchs is high in many parts of the Largetooth Sawfish’s range, particularly in coastal areas and freshwater systems. Unregulated, unmanaged fisheries and habitat loss and degradation all threaten sawfishes across large parts of their range.

For at least part of its life cycle, the Largetooth Sawfish relies on a variety of specific habitat types including freshwater systems, estuaries, and mangroves, which 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). Mining activities pose a risk to the Largetooth Sawfish through freshwater habitat alteration or potential pollution events. Alterations to river courses are also a threat to the Largetooth Sawfish, which migrates upstream in early life stages.

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. This convention is, however, not currently enforced.

Citation: Kyne, P.M. 2016. Pristis pristis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T18584848A81175173. . Downloaded on 19 September 2018.
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