Are Sawfishes Still Present In Mozambique? A Baseline Ecological Study

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Leeney RH. 2017. Are sawfishes still present in Mozambique? A baseline ecological study. PeerJ 5:e2950. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2950.

Date created: 
Interview surveys
Critically endangered
Western Indian Ocean
Artisanal fishers
Socio-economic value
Gill nets
Local ecological knowledge

Sawfishes (Pristidae) were formerly abundant in the western Indian Ocean, but current data on sawfish presence and distribution are lacking for most of the region. This paper summarises historical records of sawfishes in Mozambican waters and presents the findings of the first assessment of the presence and status of sawfishes in Mozambique. A countrywide baseline assessment was undertaken between May and July 2014, using interviews with artisanal, semi-industrial and industrial fishers, fish traders and fisheries monitoring staff as the primary source of information on sawfish distribution, recent catches, socio-economic value and cultural importance. Additional interviews were conducted via email or telephone with individuals running sport fishing operations or who otherwise had considerable experience interacting with the fishing sectors or the marine environment in Mozambique. Where encountered, sawfish rostra were photographed and a series of measurements and associated data were collected. In total, 200 questionnaire surveys and seven interviews with recreational fishing and dive operators were conducted, and 19 rostra were documented from museum archives and private collections, belonging to two sawfish species, the Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis) and Green Sawfish (P. zijsron). The most recent captures of sawfishes were reported to have occurred in 2014. Two key sites were identified where both recent encounters were reported and numerous Largetooth Sawfish rostra were documented. Gill nets were the fishing gear most commonly attributed to sawfish catches. Sawfishes did not hold any cultural importance in Mozambique, but they have at least some socio-economic importance to artisanal fishers, primarily through the sale of their fins. The meat did not appear to be held in high regard and was usually consumed locally. Sampling and further research is now required to confirm the presence of sawfishes and to assess the primary threats to sawfishes in those areas. At one site where a number of rostra were present and where fishers stated that they still catch sawfish, gill nets are being provided to fishers as an alternative to beach seining. This may have a serious impact on the local sawfish population and more broadly for other elasmobranchs in the area. Immediate action is required to develop a landings monitoring programme in this and other key habitats, and to encourage fishers to release sawfishes alive.

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