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Past and present sawfish (Pristidae) records from India

Zoya Tyabji*, Rima W. Jabado, K. V. Akhilesh, Shoba Joe Kizhakudan, M. Aaron MacNeil

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Overfishing, as well as habitat loss and degradation, have led to major population declines and local extinctions of sawfishes (Pristidae) globally. Four sawfish species reportedly occur in India, however, records have been limited to opportunistic commercial catch and landing reports. Here, we provide the first comprehensive review of published and grey literature on sawfish records from India, including opportunistic observations of sawfish rostra offerings to religious places, highlighting the cultural significance of these species locally. In total, 223 recorded capture events were compiled between 1794 and 2022, with largetooth sawfish Pristis pristis (n = 82), followed by narrow sawfish Anoxypristis cuspidata (n = 32) being the dominant species reported. In addition to marine fisheries, 8 reports of sawfish were reported from freshwater systems. The wide range of rostra sizes and total lengths recorded also suggests that India’s waters harbour various life history stages of sawfish. When caught, sawfish were utilised for their liver to produce oil, meat was locally consumed, and fins were exported. Despite being legally protected in India since 2001, 63 incidental captures were recorded from landings, suggesting various levels of awareness and enforcement of catch bans across the country. To avoid extinction of these species in India, we emphasise the need to conduct culturally associated awareness programs with coastal communities, encourage safe release and improve handling practices with fishers, identify critical habitats, and strengthen enforcement for mandatory live release.