NOAA 2001-045
Contact: Gordon Helm


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on its proposal to list as endangered the U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish that once ranged in shallow waters off the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard. An extensive status review has concluded that the U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish, currently found only off South Florida, is in danger of extinction.

"If the smalltooth sawfish is going to survive, it is imperative that we provide Endangered Species Act protection for this species quickly," said Bill Hogarth, acting director of NOAA fisheries.

Smalltooth sawfish are large, shark-like fish that are one of several living species in the sawfish family. Sawfish, in general, are found around the world along coasts, in bays and in rivers of mostly tropical climates. They get their name from the long, flattened "saw" – rimmed by dozens of "teeth" -- that protrudes forward from its head. A sawfish uses its saw to stir up muddy or sandy bottoms to find and injure prey. Smalltooth sawfish may grow to more than 18 ft. long and may live more than 20 years.

NOAA fisheries must make a final decision on whether to list the population of smalltooth sawfish as endangered within a year after publication of the proposed rule. In late 1999, the agency received a petition to consider protections under the ESA for both smalltooth sawfish and largetooth sawfish from the Center for Marine Conservation. In March 2000, NOAA Fisheries determined that listing may be warranted for smalltooth sawfish, but not for largetooth sawfish.

Sawfish are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation because they become easily entangled in nets, have a restricted habitat and are slow to mature. The smalltooth sawfish decline was caused mainly by accidental captures in various fishing gear, especially gillnets, and likely compounded by habitat degradation.

Prior to 1960, smalltooth sawfish from the U.S. population were commonly found throughout the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern seaboard up to North Carolina. Currently they are found off peninsular Florida with the largest numbers occurring in the Everglades and Florida Keys regions.

If NOAA fisheries determines that it is prudent to designate critical habitat for this population, it will publish a proposed designation of critical habitat in a separate notice. A final determination on whether to designate critical habitat would be published concurrently with any final listing.

The public will have until July 15, 2001 (90 days) to comment on the proposal. Comments should be addressed to: Chief, Protected Resources Division, NMFS Southeast Regional Office, 9721 Executive Center Drive North, St. Petersburg FL 33702. A copy of the proposal may be obtained by contacting the same office at (727) 570-5312 or online at: . The Web site also contains additional information, links to the status review for smalltooth sawfish, and the federal register notice.