Pristis pectinata (Eastern Atlantic subpopulation) 

Scope: Global
Language: English

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Rhinopristiformes Pristidae

Scientific Name: Pristis pectinata (Eastern Atlantic subpopulation)
Parent Species:
Common Name(s):
English Smalltooth Sawfish, Wide Sawfish
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 populations is present and Western and Eastern Atlantic populations of Smalltooth Sawfish represent separate units for conservation purposes.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Critically Endangered A2cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2012-05-31
Assessor(s): Carlson, J., Wiley, T. & Smith, K.
Reviewer(s): Diop, M. & Böhm, M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Harrison, L.
The Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) were once a common component of the marine fauna in the Eastern Atlantic in western Africa but now have been nearly extirpated primarily by fishing (trawl and inshore netting). The lack of records infers a population reduction of ≥80% over a period of three generations (i.e., 1962 to present) based on a reduction in extent of occurrence (EOO). There has been only one confirmed record for the region in the last 10 years (Sierra Leone in 2003) and it is not known if the population is recovering. There are unconfirmed records (Pristis sp.) from only two other countries (Guinea Bissau in 2011, and Mauritania 2010). It is likely that areas around Guinea-Bissau represent the last areas where sawfish can be found in western Africa. Threats to Smalltooth Sawfish are ongoing from inshore netting and habitat modification (mangrove removal).

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The current distribution of Smalltooth Sawfish in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean is uncertain due to species misidentification, lack of reporting, and the general contraction of its range. Smalltooth Sawfish were historically found along the coast of western Africa from Angola to Mauritania (Faria et al. 2013). There has been only one confirmed record for the region in the last 10 years (Sierra Leone in 2003). There are unconfirmed records (Pristis sp.) from only two other countries (Guinea-Bissau in 2011, and Mauritania 2010).

The presence of sawfishes in the Mediterranean Sea is still uncertain (Whitehead et al. 1984, Bilecenoğlu and Taşkavak 1999). Although Smalltooth Sawfish were included in historic faunal lists (Serena 2005), it is still debatable whether sawfishes occurred as part of the Mediterranean ichthyofauna or are a vagrant species as seasonal migrants from areas off western Africa. Reports of Smalltooth Sawfish outside of the Atlantic Ocean are likely misidentifications of other sawfish species (Faria et al. 2013).
Countries occurrence:
Sierra Leone
Possibly extinct:
Angola; Benin; Cameroon; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Liberia; Nigeria; Senegal; Togo
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Possibly extinct:
Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – eastern central
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):88
Upper depth limit (metres):0
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are no data on population size of the Smalltooth Sawfish in the Eastern Atlantic and the only information on trends in the population can be inferred from capture records. Smalltooth Sawfish were once common in western African waters, but today records are sparse. Early records of this species include most countries from Angola to Mauritania. Specific records on length and sex of individuals come from Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau (Faria et al. 2013). However, there has been only one confirmed record for the region in the last 10 years (Sierra Leone in 2003). There are unconfirmed records (Pristis sp.) from only two other countries (Guinea-Bissau in 2011, and Mauritania 2010). It is likely that areas around Guinea-Bissau represent the last areas where sawfish can be found in western Africa (M. Diop pers. comm. 2012).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:There is no life history information available for Smalltooth Sawfish in the Eastern Atlantic. However, life history information is available for the Western Atlantic and it assumed that life history parameters would be similar for conspecifics throughout the Atlantic Ocean. This species is lecithotrophic viviparous and litter size is thought to be 15–20 pups (Simpfendorfer 2005) born every other year, but there is little supporting data for this. Demographic analysis using early reports of life history and estimates from other pristids indicated that Smalltooth Sawfish intrinsic rate of increase ranged from 0.08 to 0.13 yr−1, and population doubling times from 5.4 to 8.5 yrs (Simpfendorfer 2000).

There is still some question regarding age and size at maturity for Smalltooth Sawfish. Simpfendorfer (2005) reported maturity at 360 cm TL for females. However, females of 300-400 cm stretched total length (STL) necropsied from the US were immature, with the smallest mature female examined being 415 cm STL (J.K. Carlson unpublished data). Males were thought to be mature about 270 cm TL (Simpfendorfer 2005). However, a recently necropsied male Smalltooth Sawfish that was 308 cm TL was found to be immature (J.K. Carlson unpublished data). The smallest mature male from field-collected specimens was 371 cm STL (J.K. Carlson unpublished data). Back-transforming these lengths into ages using the von Bertalanffy growth model of Scharer et al. (2012) indicates that males mature around 7.5 years and females 10–12 years. As these data indicate much faster growth and earlier maturation than previously determined, any updated demographic model will likely indicate higher productivity and rebound potential.Moreno Iturria (2012) constructed a deterministic model based on standard life table techniques using growth estimates from Simpfendorfer et al. (2008) and calculated demographic parameters for Smalltooth Sawfish for US waters. Intrinsic rates of increase were estimated as 0.07 per year, generation time 17 years and population doubling time 9.7 years.

Recent information on tag-recaptured juvenile Smalltooth Sawfish collected in Florida, USA, indicates substantially faster growth than previously assumed for this species. Simpfendorfer et al. (2008) found that growth was rapid during the first two years after birth.

Using data from reported encounters from 1998 to 2008, Wiley and Simpfendorfer (2010) evaluated Smalltooth Sawfish habitat use patterns in the US. There was an inverse relationship between sawfish size and extent of northern distribution, with animals less than 200 cm having a wider latitudinal distribution and occurring farthest north, and animals greater than 200 cm reported mostly in southern Florida (Wiley and Simpfendorfer 2010). Most encounters occurred in estuarine and nearshore habitats, and their locations were not randomly distributed, having a positive association with inshore mangrove and seagrass habitats. While sawfish were reported in depths to 73 m, there was a significant relationship between size and depth, with smaller animals occurring in shallower waters (Wiley and Simpfendorfer 2010).

Data from acoustic telemetry and tag-recapture information indicates Smalltooth Sawfish (less than 100 cm) had the smallest home ranges, low linearity of movement, and a preference for very shallow mud banks (Simpfendorfer et al. 2010). Juveniles greater than 100 cm demonstrated larger home ranges, preference for shallow mud/sand banks, and remained close to mangrove shorelines. Tide was found to be the main factor influencing movement on short time scales. Sawfish <150 cm STL spend the majority of their time in water <0.5 m deep, while larger juveniles spend most of their time in water 0.5–1.0 m deep. Juveniles >130 cm had high levels of site fidelity for specific nursery areas for periods up to almost three months, but the smaller juveniles had relatively short site fidelity to specific locations (Simpfendorfer et al. 2010).

Based on data from catch-per-unit effort (CPUE), Poulakis et al. (2011) found that most juvenile Smalltooth Sawfish had an affinity for water less than 1.0 m deep, water temperature over 30ºC, dissolved oxygen over 6 mg/L, and salinity between 18 and 30. Greater catch rates for sawfish over age one were associated with shoreline habitats with overhanging vegetation such as mangroves (Poulakis et al. 2011).

Simpfendorfer et al. (2011) conducted a long-term tracking study and found mean daily activity space was 1.42 km of river distance. The distance between 30-minute centres of activity was typically 0.1 km, suggesting limited movement over short time scales. Salinity electivity analysis demonstrated an affinity for salinities between 18 and at least 24, suggesting movements are likely made in part, to remain within this range (Simpfendorfer et al. 2011).

The US National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the US distinct population segment of Smalltooth Sawfish (Norton et al. 2012). The nursery habitats essential to the conservation of the species were identified as those adjacent to red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) and euryhaline habitats with water depths less than or equal to 0.9 m (Norton et al. 2012).

For adult sawfish, unpublished data from pop-off archival satellite transmitting (PAT) tags indicate Smalltooth Sawfish spend the majority of their time in shallow waters (<10 m deep) and prefer temperatures between 22°C and 28°C (J.K. Carlson unpublished data). The maximum recorded depth for Smalltooth Sawfish is 88 m.
Generation Length (years):17

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: While international trade in sawfishes is banned under the species’ listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), illegal international trade may still exist due to the high value of their products.

McDavitt (2005) reviewed all available information related to sawfish trade and identified six sawfish parts, derived mostly from sawfish captured as bycatch in fisheries, which were historically or currently found in trade. These sawfish parts identified in trade are: fins, whole rostra, rostral teeth, meat, organs and skin

The fins of sawfish are used to produce shark fin soup and sawfish fins are highly favored in Asian markets (NMFS 2009). Because of their large fins with high fin needle content, fins of species in the family Pristidae are highly valued for shark fin soup (CITES 2007).

Sawfish rostra are often traded as curios, ceremonial weapons, or for use in traditional medicines (NMFS 2009). Rostra have long been a favorite marine curio (Migdalski 1981), with large rostra commanding impressive prices (McDavitt 1996).

Rostral teeth of species in the family Pristidae have been the preferred material used to manufacture artificial spurs on Peruvian fighting cocks (Cogorno Ventura 2001). The rostral teeth are mostly obtained from Brazil, Ecuador, Panama and various Caribbean countries (CITES 2007).

Sawfish are regularly used for their meat; however, most of the consumption is local and so they appear to be only occasionally traded beyond local markets (NMFS 2009).

Chinese traditional medicine also uses other sawfish parts, including liver, ova and gall bladder (NMFS 2009).

Sawfish skin has been used to produce leather, which, like shark leather, is considered of very high quality (NMFS 2009). The leather is used to make belts, boots, purses, and even to cover books (NMFS 2009).

Species in the family Pristidae are highly prized as exhibit animals in public aquaria because of their charismatic nature (McDavitt 1996). Sawfish have been exhibited in large public aquaria for over 50 years. Their large size, bizarre shape, and shark-like features have made them popular additions to shark aquaria exhibits worldwide (NMFS 2009).

See CITES (2007) for a comprehensive overview of trade in sawfishes.

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 vulnerable to entanglement in any sort of net gear, gillnetting and trawling in particular. Depleted populations 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).

In West Africa, shark fishing increased significantly in the past several decades and ‘the intensive exploitation of sharks over the past thirty years has completely decimated the most vulnerable populations…’ (Diop and Dossa 2011). The disappearance of sawfish in the region was thought to have begun in the 1970s when new fishers entered the region and new fishing gear was developed (Diop and Dossa 2011). Threats are ongoing in the region and given that many areas still have artisanal gillnet fisheries with little or no regulation, it is likely the population will continue to decline.

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.

Sawfish are protected in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Guinea and Senegal and in Marine Protected Areas in Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau (S.V. Fordham pers. comm. 2012).

Classifications [top]

12. Marine Intertidal -> 12.4. Marine Intertidal - Mud Flats and Salt Flats
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
12. Marine Intertidal -> 12.7. Marine Intertidal - Mangrove Submerged Roots
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
4. Education & awareness -> 4.2. Training
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.2. National level
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.3. Sub-national level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.1. International level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.2. National level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.3. Sub-national level
6. Livelihood, economic & other incentives -> 6.1. Linked enterprises & livelihood alternatives

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing:Future ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Slow, Significant Declines ⇒ Impact score:Low Impact: 4 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.2. Commercial & industrial areas
♦ timing:Future ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.1. Habitat shifting & alteration
♦ timing:Future ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.3. Temperature extremes
♦ timing:Future ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:Past Impact 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:High Impact: 8 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Whole (>90%) ♦ severity:Rapid Declines ⇒ Impact score:High Impact: 8 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.1. Species Action/Recovery Plan
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.2. Area-based Management Plan
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.3. Harvest & Trade Management Plan
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.2. Harvest level trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.3. Trade trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.4. Habitat trends

♦  Food - human
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Medicine - human & veterinary
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Wearing apparel, accessories
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

♦  Handicrafts, jewellery, etc.
 National : ✓  International : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Bilecenoğlu, M. and Taşkavak, E. 1999. General characteristics of the Turkish marine ichthyofauna. Zoology in the Middle East 18: 41-56.

Cogorno Ventura, C. 2001. Historia de las armas utilizadas para el combate de los gallos de pico y espuelas en el Peru. Boletín de Lima 123: 114-122.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 2007. Proposal 17 Inclusion of all species of the family Pristidae in Appendix I of CITES. Fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties The Hague (Netherlands), 3-15 June 2007.

Diop, M. and Dossa, J. 2011. 30 Years of Shark Fishing in West Africa. FIBA.

Faria, V.V., McDavitt, M.T., Charvet, P., Wiley, T.R., Simpfendorfer, C.A. and Naylor, G.J.P. 2013. Species delineation and global population structure of Critically Endangered sawfishes (Pristidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 167: 136-164.

IUCN. 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2013.1). Available at: (Accessed: 12 June 2013).

McDavitt, M. 1996. The cultural and economic importance of sawfishes (family Pristidae). Shark News 8: 10–11.

McDavitt, M.T. 2005. Summary of trade in sawfishes and sawfish parts. Unpublished Report.

Migdalski, E.C. 1981. Fish Mounts and Other Fish Trophies. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Moreno Iturria, D.A. 2012. Demographic analysis of the family Pristidae to aid in conservation and management. James Cook University.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2009. Recovery Plan for Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Prepared by the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Silver Spring.

Norton, S., Wiley, T.R., Carlson, J.K., Frick, A.L., Poulakis, G.R., and Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2012. Designating critical habitat for the endangered smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata in the United States: challenges and results. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science 4: 473-480.

Poulakis, G.R., Stevens, P.W., Timmers, A.A., Wiley, T.R., and Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2011. Abiotic affinities and spatiotemporal distribution of the endangered smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata, in a southwest Florida nursery. Marine and Freshwater Research 62: 1165-1177.

Scharer, R.M., Patterson, W.F., Carlson, J.K. and Poulakis, G.R. 2012. Age and growth of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) verified with LA-ICP-MS analysis of vertebrae. PLoS One 7(10): e47850.

Serena, F. 2005. Field identification guide to the sharks and rays of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fishery Purposes, FAO, Rome.

Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2000. Predicting population recovery rates for endangered western Atlantic sawfishes using demographic analysis. Environmental Biology of Fishes 58: 371-377.

Simpfendorfer, C. A. 2005. Threatened fishes of the world: Pristis pectinata Latham, 1794 (Pristidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 73: 20.

Simpfendorfer, C.A., Poulakis, G.R., O’Donnell, P.M. and Wiley, T.R. 2008. Growth rates of juvenile smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata Latham in the western Atlantic. Journal of Fish Biology 72: 711-723.

Simpfendorfer, C.A., Wiley, T.R., and Yeiser, B.G. 2010. Improving conservation planning for an endangered sawfish using data from acoustic telemetry. Biological Conservation 143(6): 1460-1469.

Simpfendorfer, C.A., Yeiser, B.G., Wiley, T.R., Poulakis, G.R., Stevens, P.W., and Heupel, M.R. 2011. Environmental influences on the spatial ecology of juvenile smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata): results from acoustic monitoring. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16918.

Whitehead, P.J.P., Bauchot, M.L., Hureau, J.C., Nielsen, J. and Tortonese, E. (eds). 1984. Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Vol 1. UNESCO, Paris

Wiley, T.R. and Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2010. Using public encounter data to direct recovery efforts for the endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Endangered Species Research 12: 179-191.

Citation: Carlson, J., Wiley, T. & Smith, K. 2013. Pristis pectinata (Eastern Atlantic subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2013: e.T43398244A43435656. . Downloaded on 16 October 2018.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided