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Florida’s Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish

The population of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) in the United States was once found in coastal waters from Texas to North Carolina. However, smalltooth sawfish populations declined dramatically during the second half of the 20th century due to the loss of important nursery habitat from coastal development and decades of mortality in both commercial and recreational fisheries. Smalltooth sawfish are now found mostly in Florida, and regularly found only in southwest Florida around Everglades National Park. In response to the dramatic reductions in both their numbers and range, NOAA Fisheries listed the U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2003.

The goal of the Endangered Species Act listing is to recover the population to the point that it no longer needs the protections of the ESA. After the listing NOAA Fisheries developed a plan to recover the U.S. smalltooth sawfish population. Published in 2009, the plan recommends specific steps to recover the population, focusing on (1) educating the public to minimize human interactions with sawfish and any associated injury and mortality, (2) protecting and/or restoring important sawfish habitats, and (3) ensuring sawfish abundance and distribution increase.

Newborn sawfish, like many other marine species, use specific habitats referred to as nurseries to protect small sawfish from predators and provide ample food for quick growth. Young sawfish often rely on shallow estuarine habitats fringed with red mangroves, but development has changed or destroyed much of this habitat which potentially affects in which areas sawfish can give birth and the juveniles can survive. Protecting these nurseries is vital to the recovery of the species so NOAA Fisheries designated two areas as Critical Habitat for juvenile sawfish in 2009: one in Charlotte Harbor and one in the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades. It is important to note that the designation of an area as critical habitat does not create a closed area, marine protected area, refuge, or other conservation area. However, it ensures that federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect these designated critical habitat areas are required to consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure that their actions do not adversely modify or destroy the designated critical habitat.

If you see or catch a sawfish, note its estimated total length, and the date, time, and your location with GPS coordinates if available. Scientists use your sawfish encounter data to track recovery of the population, and steer research and conservation efforts. Please share the information by visiting, calling 1-844-4SAWFISH, emailing, or entering the details in the FWC Reporter App.

For more information about current sawfish conservation and research in the United States visit or call 1-844-4SAWFISH.

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