07/30/2017 10:31 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

Sawfish Handling and Release Guidelines 
by Tonya Wiley, Haven Worth Consulting

Smalltooth sawfish are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to target, harm, harass, or handle them in any way.  While it is technically illegal to catch a sawfish (except with a research permit or in a fishery where incidental take has been authorized) captures do occur while fishing for other species.  Any sawfish caught while fishing must be released as quickly as possible.

The guidelines below were developed to aid anglers in quickly and safely releasing incidentally caught sawfish.  These guidelines take into account the safety of both the endangered sawfish and the angler.  Sawfish are large, powerful animals that can cause serious injury, so use caution if you do catch one.
The number one rule to remember when handling and releasing a sawfish is to leave it in the water at all times.  Do not lift it out of the water onto your boat or a pier, and do not drag it on shore. 

General Release Guidelines:

  • ·        Leave the sawfish in the water
  • ·        Do not remove the saw (rostrum) or injure the animal in any way
  • ·        Remove as much fishing gear as safely possible
  • ·        Use extreme caution when handling and releasing sawfish as the saw can thrash violently from side to side
  • ·        Never use a gaff or drag the sawfish on a boat or on shore

If hooked:

  • ·        Leave the sawfish, especially the gills, in the water
  • ·        If it can be done safely, untangle any line wrapped around the saw
  • ·        Cut the line as close to the hook as possible
  • ·        If hooked internally do NOT attempt to remove the hook, remove as much line as possible and cut the line close to the hook

If tangled in a cast net:

  • ·        Leave the sawfish, especially the gills, in the water
  • ·        Untangle and cut the net removing as much of it as possible from the animal
  • ·        Release the sawfish quickly

Sawfish are extremely susceptible to entanglement in recreational fishing lines and commercial nets.  Mishandling and the purposeful injury and killing of captured sawfish is both illegal and detrimental to the recovery of the population.  Never use a gaff on a sawfish you have caught and never remove the rostrum.  Rachel Scharer, a Sawfish Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Charlotte Harbor Field Laboratory said “Lately we have been getting numerous public reports of an encounter with a sawfish missing its rostrum, and we have seen several sawfish without a rostrum during our research.”  Sawfish use their rostrum for detecting and catching food so in addition to being illegal, removal of the rostrum likely severely limits the animal’s chance to find enough food to survive.
If you catch or see a sawfish take a quick photograph of the sawfish, estimate its size, note your location, and share the details with scientists.  The details of your sightings or catches of sawfish help to monitor the population and track the recovery progress.  You can share your information by calling 844-4-SAWFISH (844-472-9347) or emailing    

Some fishermen have expressed concern that reporting encounters will result in the closure of their favorite fishing locations.  However, the smalltooth sawfish is already listed as an endangered species and critical habitat has been designated and neither of these actions has resulted in any closed fishing areas for recreational or commercial anglers.  Your encounter reports will be used to track recovery of the population and steer research efforts, which will ultimately benefit the species and the areas in which you fish.  Adam Brame, the Sawfish Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, said “We are confident that NOAA and recreational anglers can work together to recover smalltooth sawfish so future generations can experience the thrill of encountering such a unique animal.”

For more information about sawfish visit: or

All photographs were provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Charlotte Harbor Field Laboratory.  

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