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Sawfish monitoring project gets underway

The Sawfish Monitoring in Far North Queensland project got underway on Cape York recently, delivered by Sharks And Rays Australia (SARA) in partnership with Cape York NRM. The three-year project will conduct surveys for sawfish to increase knowledge around sawfish populations on the Cape while building capacity within local communities to survey and protect these endangered species.

Northern Australia is home to four sawfish species, and three of these are listed as vulnerable on national legislation.

The freshwater sawfish (Pristis pristis) was once abundant on Queensland’s east coast north of Brisbane but is now restricted to rivers flowing west into the Gulf of Carpentaria, and possibly Princess Charlotte Bay / Rinyirru National Park on the east coast. Lack of data, including information about the general biology, distribution, and abundance of sawfish, is a major problem in sawfish protection.

The principal threats to all sawfish species include; fishing activities, habitat degradation and modification, and entanglement in, and ingestion of, marine debris. In Queensland, the main threat to sawfish is commercial fisheries, with these animals being particularly susceptible to being caught as by-catch.

Dr Barbara Wueringer, Sharks And Rays Australia (SARA) is leading the project and has been delivering Sawfish projects on Cape York since 2015. Dr Wueringer provides the training in sawfish sampling, capture, handling, tagging and release methods.

The first survey expedition ran from 12-25 June in partnership with the Kowanyama Land and Sea Rangers, Cape York NRM and Northern Gulf RMG. For 14 days, the waters of the Mitchell River were sampled between Chillagoe and Kowanyama. Surveys are done with gill nets, hand lines and drum lines, under strict animal ethics and research requirements.

Additionally, in collaboration with James Cook University’s Global Sawfish Search Project, water is sampled for eDNA (environmental DNA, small particles of DNA shed by sawfish into the surrounding water). The results of the project will be shared as they become available.

You can help to increase our knowledge about sawfish by reporting any sightings or accidental catchings, no matter how long ago, on the Sharks and Rays Australia website on the Report Your Sighting page

The project is funded by the Queensland Government’s Community Sustainability Action Grants

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