ESR prepress abstract  -  doi: 10.3354/esr00805

Is this the last stand of the Critically Endangered green sawfish Pristis zijsron in the Arabian Gulf?

Rima W. Jabado*, Reem A. Al Baharna, Sultan R. Al Ali, Khalfan O. Al Suwaidi, Ayesha Y. Al Blooshi, Shaikha S. Al Dhaheri

*Email: rima.jabado@ead.ae

ABSTRACT: The sawfishes (Pristidae) represent one of the most threatened groups of marine fish around the world. Between October 2015 and June 2016, interviews (n = 82) were conducted to assess the occurrence of sawfish in United Arab Emirates waters and gain insight from fishers’ traditional ecological knowledge regarding their status, uses, and cultural significance. Almost all respondents (95.1%) had previously seen a sawfish and 92.6% confirmed that their numbers had declined in the last 20 years. Most respondents reported encounters in the last five to ten years, with 18.3% (n = 15) having seen a sawfish in the last two years. Sawfish were not perceived as a culturally significant resource (76.8%) and when caught were primarily used as food, their high value fins sold to traders, and rostra retained as decorations. The consensus was that while sawfish were previously targeted, they are now caught primarily as bycatch in gill nets. Based on pictures and rostra encountered (n = 19), it appears that the green sawfish Pristis zijsron is more common in United Arab Emirates waters than the narrow sawfish Anoxypristis cuspidata which is likely to be present off the Ras Al Khaimah coast. While the results of this study provide evidence of a large decline in sawfish, they hint at the possible importance of Abu Dhabi waters as a region where sawfish are still encountered and where research and monitoring, as well as conservation and recovery efforts should be focused to avoid local extinction and recover their populations.