For Immediate Release, September 1, 2009
Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 308
Florida's Southwestern Coast Protected as Smalltooth Sawfish Habitat
SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government will protect critical habitat for the endangered smalltooth sawfish along the southwestern coast of Florida between Charlotte Harbor and Florida Bay. The rule, to be published in tomorrow’s Federal Register, comes in response to the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity against the Bush administration for its delay in protecting habitat for several marine species at risk of extinction. The new rule will protect 840,472 acres of coastal habitat for the smalltooth sawfish.
“Coastal development has been cutting away at the smalltooth sawfish’s habitat,” said Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity, “but new critical habitat protection will not only promote the recovery of the sawfish but also protect Florida’s unique mangrove ecosystems.”
Listed as endangered in 2003, the smalltooth sawfish population has declined by 95 percent. The sawfish, a relative of the shark, has a distinctive serrated snout that looks like a saw, and commonly grows to about 18 feet in length. The sawfish was overharvested for its saw-like appearance, popular in the curio trade. Its unique snout also makes the fish extremely vulnerable to entanglement in fishing gear.
Once common in U.S. waters off Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico, the species is now rarely found, occurring primarily in Florida Bay and near the Everglades. Sawfish inhabit shallow bays, estuaries, and river mouths, and the fish are found in mangroves, coral reefs, sea grasses, and muddy flats. Yet habitat destruction is one of the key factors affecting the sawfish. Loss of habitat due to activities such as agricultural and commercial development, dredge-and-fill operations, boating, erosion, and pollution threatens the smalltooth sawfish with extinction.
“Smalltooth sawfish are dangerously close to extinction, and protection of the species’ coastal habitat could be the key to its survival,” said Sakashita.
This rule means that federal actions, such as permits, that may affect critical habitat of the smalltooth sawfish will have to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that their activities do not damage that habitat.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org