Update: Fisherman seen selling sawfish bills

Narrowtooth sawfish ( Anoxypristis cuspidata) rostra for sale in a market in Mackay in north Queensland, Australia, in June 2016. Photo: The Guardian Australia
Narrowtooth sawfish ( Anoxypristis cuspidata) rostra for sale in a market in Mackay in north Queensland, Australia, in June 2016. Photo: The Guardian Australia

UPDATE: Queensland Police have said they are aware of the photo and assisted Fisheries with a search warrant on July 19.

"It was a Fisheries warrant that Police assisted but we don't have carriage on the ongoing investigation," Sergeant Nick Lindholm said.

An image on The Guardian Australia website this morning of a fisherman selling sawfish bills has sparked outrage in the Mackay region over the protection of the vulnerable species.

The photos appear to show seven rostrums on sale (the long, saw-like bill) for $10-$15.

The photos are said to have been taken in June this year at a local market.

The rostrums are reportedly from the Narrowtooth sawfish, one of five species globally, all of which are listed as endangered and are illegal to catch under the Queensland Fisheries Regulation.

The sawfish native to the Mackay region have been known to grow up to 4.5 metres, but are now rarely found that size and are barely "hanging on" according to rare and elusive fish species expert from James Cook University, Dr Brendan Ebner.

"They face a number of threats including getting caught in gill nets and trawling nets and being killed by anglers.

"The practice of killing or taking saws from live animals is barbaric in the current day," Dr Ebner said.

Alongside fishing, habitat loss is another major factor in the species decline.

Research Analyst with the Mackay Conservation Group, Patricia Julien, said sawfish are very susceptible to changes in water quality, and "as part of their lifecycle they have to access river systems, so if you have a dam on the river system or poor water quality, that will affect them".

The five major pressures listed by the Australian Government Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are commercial fishing, climate change, coastal development, habitat loss and catchment run-off.

While sawfish are listed as vulnerable under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, both Dr Ebner and Ms Julien agree monitoring and accountability need a lot of work.

"There are not a lot of funded monitoring programs specifically for sawfish species in Australia.

"There is nowhere near enough accountability for the barbaric process of removing a bill form a live animal.

"This type of cruelty is just beyond understanding," Dr Ebner said.

Ms Julien said getting fishers to collect data would be beneficial for monitoring and "would be a good outcome from this situation, to have a better management program".

Fisheries Queensland spokesperson, Tanya Armstrong, said they have received a report about the alleged sale and are investigating the matter.

Under the Queensland Fisheries Act 2004, penalties up to $121,900 can apply for anyone taking, possessing or selling a regulated fish.

Topics:  conservation endangered fisheries market

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