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Conservation Win for Sawfish, say WWF and TRAFFIC

WASHINGTON – Today trade restrictions were approved for sawfish–large rays related to sharks, with distinctive toothed snouts that are found off the East Coast of the United States and other places—according to World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC.

The UN wildlife trade convention approved all seven sawfish species in Appendix I banning all international commercial trade except for one species found in Australia which was included in Appendix II (but only to allow trade in live animals to public aquaria for conservation purposes only).

“Sawfish have been disappearing from waters stretching from the East Coast of the U.S. to Southeast Asia in order to meet demand for quite awhile,” said Simon Habel, head of World Wildlife Fund’s U.S. delegation at CITES. “This is a positive action today, but it’s unfortunate that the CITES Parties waited so long to throw the sawfish a bone.”

Sawfish are traded for their fins, meat, unique toothed rostra (snouts), and as live animals for exhibition.  Their distinctive saw-like snouts are sold as souvenirs, curios, and ceremonial weapons, while other body parts such as skin, liver oil and bile are used in traditional medicines.

This is the second time that the U.S. has called for the strongest trade restrictions for sawfish.  The first proposal was made in 1997 and was rejected. 

Although population facts and figures for sawfish are scarce, and there are very few sightings, there is solid evidence that they are all critically endangered.

The parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species defeated proposals last week to list two shark species in CITES Appendix II that would have allowed international trade, but required stricter regulation to ensure trade is sustainable.

“We are relieved that international trade pressure will be lifted for these critically endangered species,” said Steven Broad, Director, TRAFFIC. “Trade, along with fishing pressure, was pushing them towards extinction.”

The CITES Conference is being held until 15th June.

Known in the United States as World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world.