SAWFISH: The world’s most endangered marine fish
FAST FACTS: WEST AFRICA
- Two of the world’s five sawfish species occurred in West Africa, the Largetooth and Smalltooth Sawfish
- Sawfishes were once common in West Africa (from Mauritania to Angola) and were reportedly caught in great numbers as recently as the 1930s
- Recent information on West Africa status is scant
- Last observations: Gambia was in 1995, Guinea in 1999, Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, Guinea Bissau in 2011, and Liberia in 2012
- A single sawfish was captured in Mauritania in 2010, the first one seen there in 35 years.
- Guinea-Bissau is the only place in West Africa where the presence of sawfish can be confirmed today, thanks to remote and protected mangroves of the Bijagos Archipelagos
- The Largetooth Sawfish and Smalltooth Sawfish most likely shared the same habitats; Smalltooth Sawfish is considered to be more the abundant of the species
- Smalltooth Sawfish are born at 80 cm in length and can grow to at least 5.5 m
- Smalltooth Sawfish reach sexual maturity at around 8-12 years old and live at least 30 years
- Smalltooth Sawfish give birth to 15-20 young every second year
- Largetooth Sawfish are born at 70-90 cm in length and can grow to over 6.5 m
- Largetooth Sawfish reach sexual maturity at around 8-10 years old and live at least 44 years
- Largetooth Sawfish give birth to 1-13 young
- In West Africa, Sawfishes have been caught by gillnets, longlines and trawl nets
- Increasing fishing activities and the development of use of nylon monofilament nets, trawling since the 1970s have depleted populations
- Sawfish fins are amongst the most preferred for shark fin soup in Asia; one set can sell for close to USD$4000
- “Dégémayéré, pis espada, O kank! ”There are no sawfish”; West African fishermen lament over the demise of these species
- Sawfishes are symbol of strength and courage and have a particular cultural importance within western Africa: they appear on coins and banknotes and have a major place in the cosmogony of certain ethnic groups.
- Sawfishes are the principal symbol of judicial impartiality among several coastal Congo peoples.
- Sawfish feature prominently in proverbs of Cameroon’s Duala people