CHENNAI: A sawfish, a critically endangered species protected under Schedule 1 of the Widllife (Protection) Act 1972, was sighted off the Chennai coast for the first time in decades on Saturday, but local fishermen who caught the fish sold it for meat. Their act can attract a punishment similar in magnitude to what is awarded for killing a tiger or elephant, an official said. However, the fishermen said they were not aware the species was protected. The State fisheries department officials admitted it had not conducted an awareness drive among fishermen about endangered and protected marine species in recent times but would do so now.
Fishermen from Semmenchery, near Kovalam, accidentally caught a sub-adult Sawfish, weighing close to 80 kg, that got entangled in ray fishing net on Saturday morning. Photographic and video evidence, available with Express, revealed the fish was alive when it was brought to the shore. The fin was moving as fishermen dragged it to the ground from the boat.
The long narrow flattened rostrum (nose extension lined with sharp transverse teeth) was completely covered by the net. Based on the appearance of fins and physical identification, marine biologists said it was a Largetooth sawfish, listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
No sightings in the last 3-4 decades, says expert
Shoba Joe Kizhakudan of Central Marine Fisheries Institute (CMFRI) said sighting of sawfish species was extremely rare on the east coast. “I think there has been no sighting in the last three to four decades. These species were found on Maharashtra and Odisha coasts earlier and, due to exploitation, sightings have drastically declined,” she said.
Sources said fishermen had sold the fish for Rs 5,000 to a dealer. Semmenchery fishermen claimed they were not aware of sawfish being critically endangered. Tiruporur range officer B Venkatesan said they learnt of the incident only in the afternoon.
“We tried to inquire, but fishermen did not cooperate and claimed that their cooperative society had sold it, unaware that the species was legally protected.” Chief Wildlife Warden Sanjay Kumar Srivastava said since sawfish is a Schedule I species and protected under Wildlife (Protection) Act, action would be taken.