Featured News Saving Sarah the Sawfish

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Tue, 13 Jun 2023

Saving Sarah the Sawfish


A James Cook University scientist has published a children’s book aiming to teach kids how to release sawfish inadvertently caught in their nets.

Dr Michael Grant has been working on sawfish conservation in Papua New Guinea for a number of years. He said sawfishes are among the world’s most threatened vertebrates.

“They used to be widespread throughout the global tropics, but owing to inshore fisheries pressure, they are now only regularly found in northern Australia and the southern island of New Guinea,” said Dr Grant.

He said it is vital population declines of the four species of sawfish in PNG waters are halted.

“Sawfish are particularly vulnerable to nets because their saw is easily entangled. It’s common practice for fishers to amputate the saw to untangle the fish from the net. But that means the sawfish slowly starves as it needs the saw to feed,” said Dr Grant.

He said while sawfish safe release guides exist, they are tailored to high-capacity western fishery contexts, and often encourage the cutting of fishing gear to disentangle the animal.

“These guides are not appropriate for low-income nations where gillnets may represent a substantial capital investment by the fishers,” said Dr Grant.

With support from JCU and the Save Our Seas Foundation, Dr Grant along with Dr. Madeline Green from the University of Tasmania, Sarah Hill of ChunkyDuck graphic designs, and PNG in-country research facilitator Yolarnie Amepou of the Piku Biodiversity Network have produced an illustrated children’s e-book, a website with audio from the book, and posters showing how to safely release sawfish.

“The Wonky Tooth Sawfish follows the adventures of Sarah the Sawfish as she navigates from her home in an inland stream to the ocean. She makes friends who help her and explain to her the dangers she will face – especially from fishing nets – and she sees the damage they can cause,” said Dr Grant.

The book contains a narrative targeted toward children, fact pages, and diagrams of how to safely release sawfish from a net, without damaging the fish or the net. The fact pages and safe release guide are available as individual files.

“We have given these materials to some communities and had a very positive reception. And recently UK-based NGO Synchronicity Earth has got on board to further develop and disseminate these materials over the next three years,” said Dr Grant.

He said the materials are child-friendly and applicable to all places where sawfish are found, including Australia, and free to download and pass on.

They can be found at https://sawfishbook.org/

The safe release guide was recently published in the journal Pacific Conservation Biology and can be accessed here


Dr Michael Grant
E: michael.grant4@jcu.edu.au