Huge, Critically Endangered Sawfish Caught by Fishermen, Sold to Trader

An enormous, critically endangered sawfish was caught off the coast of India and illegally sold to a trader.

The sawfish – which was caught accidentally in fishing nets off the coast of Karnataka state – was 10 feet long and weighed 250 kg (550 pounds), The New Indian Express reported.

A video posted to Twitter by Times Now correspondent Deepak Bopanna, which can be seen here, shows the sawfish being lifted out of the boat by a crane at Malpe fisheries harbor, near Udupi city. In the footage, people can be seen gathering around to catch a sight of the rare fish, as it is dangled by the tail.

People gathered around to catch a glimpse of the fish

The species, also known as the carpenter shark, is protected under India's Wildlife Protection Act 1972, and there are thought to be as few as 5,000 adults remaining in the world. Most of the remaining population is found in shallow, coastal waters off Florida. Sawfish are considered a vital part of the marine ecosystem as they forage and unearth smaller organisms, making it easier for other animals to find prey.

According to The New Indian Express, the fish was auctioned off to a trader. Under Indian law, people buying or selling sawfish can face fines or imprisonment, the same penalties as for killing a tiger or an elephant. Marine biologists suspect the species may be more endangered that tigers or elephants, a 2017 report from The Hindu said.

The sawfish was auctioned just a short distance from the local fisheries department office, but officials there were unaware of what was happening, The New Indian Express said.

The Times of India said that a probe into the auction is now underway.

Sawfish are the most endangered of all sharks and rays.

John Hourston, a volunteer at ocean conservation campaign group Blue Planet Society, told Newsweek that sawfish are becoming increasingly rare for a number of reasons.

"Their unique saw-like bill or rostrum makes them extremely susceptible to being caught in fishing nets and ropes," he said. "Sawfish rostrums were also once widely collected as curiosities. Educating fishers to release sawfish quickly and unharmed is one of way to help protect the species."

Despite the practice being illegal, the fish are still actively hunted in some areas.

Conservation efforts are underway to better preserve the species. However, efforts to educate local fishermen on how to avoid the catch have been halted in recent years, The New Indian Express said.

This article has been updated to include quotes from John Hourston.

Sawfish
A stock photo shows a sawfish. It is illegal to hunt and sell the endangered species. frameyazoo/Getty Images

Sawfish have been sighted off the Indian coast fewer than 10 times in the last decade, Shivakumar Haragi, an assistant professor in the Department of Marine Biology at Karnatak University, told The New Indian Express.

In 2019, another sawfish was accidentally caught by fishermen off the Chennai coast, a New Indian Express report said. The fishermen sold it for meat, claiming they had been unaware of its endangered status. The fisheries department said it would conduct an awareness drive following the incident.

This article has been updated to include quotes from John Hourston