Wednesday, July 02, 2014

UMS, researchers, experts to save sawfish of Borneo


KOTA KINABALU: The Borneo Marine Research Institute, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), is working with the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Sawfish Network comprising international researchers and volunteer experts, to save the iconic sawfish of Borneo from their dwindling population.

Heading the effort in the Borneo Marine Research Institute is its senior lecturer, Dr B. Mabel Manjaji Matsumoto, a statement from UMS said yesterday.

Sawfishes are warm water, shark-like rays characterized by long, toothed snouts (rostra). They reach over seven meters in length and are the largest members of the rays.

A recent report by The Borneo Post of a trawl-net capture of a 5m long sawfish (reported as a ‘saw shark’- which is actually its close shark-relative) from Kampung Bruit, a coastal village on Bruit Island, Daro in Sarawak (approximately 60 km from Sibu, the nearest town accessible by air), highlighted the rarity, as well as the vulnerability of the sawfishes.

Photographs included in the report revealed that the sawfish was a female, with an everted cloaca, of the Largetooth Sawfish (Latin name: Pristis pristis). Reported as incidentally caught, the 25 June 2014 report is the first known record of sawfish from the Daro area.

The Sarawak sawfish report comes only almost three weeks after the IUCN Shark Specialist Group released a report (on 5 June 2014) on a global strategy for conservation of sawfishes (Harrison & Dulvy, 2014).

The sawfish report noted that once found in the coastal waters and rivers of more than 90 tropical and subtropical countries, all five species are today classified as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red ListTM.

Mortality from targeted and incidental fishing is the main threat to sawfish. Their rostra – which they use to detect and wound prey are easily entangled in many types of fishing gear, particularly trawls and gillnets. The destruction of key habitats, such as mangroves, also poses a threat to sawfish survival.

In the report, it listed that in Malaysia, all sawfish species (Family Pristidae) are protected as endangered species under the Fisheries (Control of Endangered Species of Fish) regulation 1999. “No person shall fish or, disturb, harass, catch, kill, take, posses, sell, buy, export or transport except with the written permission from the Director General of Fisheries Malaysia. Any person who contravenes the regulations is committing an offence and can be fined not exceeding RM20,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both.”

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