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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Sawfish protection acquires teeth
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, The Hague

CITES delegates agree to give sawfish greater protection

Nations have agreed to ban international trade in one of the world's most remarkable fish.

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting, delegates approved a bid to end the sawfish trade.

The spectacular rostra, or snouts, can fetch prices of more than $1,000 (500), and all species of the fish are critically endangered.

Australia secured a small exemption allowing live exports for aquaria.

There was little opposition to the proposal to list the sawfish family (Pristidae) on CITES Appendix 1, though some delegations said little could be achieved without strong local fisheries controls.

Valued products

Dorothy Nyingi from the National Museums of Kenya told delegates about a recent research project which had collected data on sawfish from all available sources, including fishermen and wildlife experts, along the Kenyan coast.

Sawfish have disappeared from waters stretching from the east coast of the US to southeast Asia
Carroll Muffett,
"All sources reported a decrease in sawfish over a 14-year period," she said.

"Only the meat is consumed locally; and artisanal fishermen can retire after catching one sawfish due to the high value of a single rostrum, up to $1,450."

The rostra are traded internationally for curios, and fins for use in shark fin soup. Rostra and fins are also used in traditional medicine, and individual teeth make spurs for cock-fighting in Latin America.

Globally, all seven species are thought to be at less than 10% of their historical levels.

There was widespread agreement on the need to protect the sawfish, and Australia had clearly been working hard behind the scenes to secure support for its amendment which puts one of the species on CITES Appendix 2.

Threatened organisms listed on three appendices depending on level of risk
Appendix 1 - all international trade banned
Appendix 2 - international trade monitored and regulated
Appendix 3 - trade bans by individual governments, others asked to assist
"Uplisting" - moving organism to a more protective appendix, "downlisting" - the reverse
Conferences of the Parties (COPs) held every three years
CITES administered by UN Environment Programme (Unep)
The only permitted trade will involve live fish, collected in sustainable numbers, for export to aquaria.

"It's universally recognised that the threat to sawfish comes from the trade in fins and rostra," said Australia's delegate Kerry Smith.

"Northern Australia has robust populations of Pristis microdon occurring in large and remote areas which have not been subject to destructive harvesting."

The argument is that exhibiting sawfish in aquaria is a valuable way to educate people about the marine environment, though some environmental groups said there was also a commercial motive behind Australia's bid.

"Australia is putting the very survival of these magnificent animals at risk to protect an industry worth less than 100,000," said Carroll Muffett of Greenpeace.

Greenpeace believes that even a limited legal trade will make it easier for illegally caught sawfish to enter the market.

There was general satisfaction that the family had been protected, though WWF's Sue Lieberman expressed frustration that delegates had on Friday rejected proposals to protect two other sharks, the porbeagle and spiny dogfish.

"Sawfish have disappeared from waters stretching from the east coast of the US to southeast Asia," she said.

"This is a positive action today, but it's a pity that CITES parties are only able to throw a lifeline to sharks species when they're on the brink of extinction."


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