Smalltooth Sawfish

South America


Pristis pectinata


  • Habitat Loss
  • Death from by-catch

The Smalltooth Sawfish is a sawfish species from the Pristidae family. Historically, it thrives in almost fifty countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean – preferring to stay shallow, tropical estuarine water environments. In the United States, its habitat range is found off the coast of Florida.

Though it has shark-like appearance and belongs to the elasmobranch group of fish (collective term for sharks, skates, and rays), the Smalltooth Sawfish is not a shark species but a ray species. Its largest confirmed size is almost 20 feet and it can weigh up to 800 pounds. Its saw-like rostrum has a two-fold purpose: for prey immobilization and as an effective defence mechanism against predators.

Because of its dramatic population decline for the past few decades mainly due to overexploitation, it is the first marine fish that is granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2003.

The shallow estuarine habitat of Smalltooth Sawfish is imperative for its normal breeding cycle. But the continued waterfront development within its surrounding areas destroyed almost all red mangroves and other types of vegetation which serve as nursery areas.

There is also an increase in entanglement incidents which cause severe damage to the Smalltooth Sawfish or even painful death. The presence of bottom longlines and shrimp trawls (for commercial fishing) alongside hook-and-line gear (used recreationally) can make the Smalltooth Sawfish prone to being caught alive until it dies. Most fishermen also consider this cartilaginous fish species a threat to their livelihood which means they are also intentionally killed when they become victims of by-catch.