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Sawfish tracking on the western Cape

The elusive freshwater sawfish (Pristis pristis) was at the centre of recent tracking studies in the Rinyirru(Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) and at Kowanyama over September. 

The monitoring, carried out annually by Sharks And Rays Australia (SARA), headed up by Dr Barbara Wueringer, working with the local Aboriginal Land and Sea Indigenous Rangers, aims to increase knowledge about sawfish populations on the Cape while building capacity within local communities to survey and protect these endangered species.

Cape York NRM’s Coastal Ecosystems Coordinator David Preece spent a week supporting the team at Rinyirru, with Fire Coordinator Andrew Drenen in support for the second week. 

“The aim of the Rinyirru sawfish survey was to deploy 10 acoustic receivers in the Normanby River Catchment, and tag and release sawfish,” David said. “As we started the tracking study, we tried to sample for sawfish in locations with recent sightings of sawfish. This was different from previous expeditions where sawfish presence was assessed in different waterholes.”

Indigenous Rangers from Laura and Rinyirru assisted with all parts of the research, Qld Parks and Wildlife Service provided support with staff and a boat and access to the Rinyirru Ranger base.

“While I was helping out at Melaleuca Waterhole we set two acoustic receivers, did sampling with gillnets and handlines, but no sawfish were caught, despite a recent sighting in that waterhole by a recreational fisherman,” David said. 

A second monitoring survey at Kowanyama on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula was attended by Cape York NRM’s Biodiversity & Fire Programs Manager Toby Eastoe, who also provided support for a week.  

The findings from the eight-year sawfish study along the Mitchell River will be presented by Dr Wueringer at the 11th Indopacific Fish Conference in Auckland later this year. The study is co-authored by Dr Madalyn Cooper (JCU), Nikki Biskis (SARA), and Anzac Frank and Fitzroy Lawrence (Kowanyama Land and Sea Rangers).

This is the final year of the three-year Sawfish Monitoring in Far North Queensland project, delivered by SARA in partnership with Cape York NRM and funded by the Queensland Government’s Community Sustainability Action Grants.

Fast Facts

  • Sawfish are the most endangered family of sharks and rays in the world.
  • Northern Australia (including the Gulf of Carpentaria) is considered one of the last strongholds of sawfish in the world.
  • Four sawfish species are found in this region with P. pristis, P. clavata and P. zijsron listed as threatened by the Environment and Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act of 1999. A. Cuspidata is listed as internationally endangered.
  • In Queensland all sawfish are protected and have to be released as quickly as possible if accidentally caught (Qld Fisheries Act of 1994).
  • Sawfish captures in the Queensland Shark Control Program have documented dramatic sawfish reductions throughout Queensland over the past 54 years.

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