Standard Talk (15 mins) Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022

Sawfish spotters fill data gaps critical for sawfish protections in Queensland, Australia (#101)

Veronika N Biskis 1 , Kathy A Townsend 1 , Matthew T McDavitt 2 , Barbara E Wueringer 3
  1. Science Technology and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay, QLD, Australia
  2. National Legal Research Group, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
  3. Sharks And Rays Australia, Cairns, QLD, Australia

In Australia, effective management of critically endangered sawfishes is a difficult task, in part due to remaining habitat being extremely remote and expensive to reach. Since the federal recovery plan was put in place in 2015, field investigation in Queensland has been limited to few river systems, not allowing for a full-scale species distribution assessment.

In 2017, Sharks And Rays Australia launched a public sightings campaign targeted at recreational fishers to fill knowledge gaps in population abundance and spatial ecology. Since then, over 1150 submissions have been received Australia-wide from members of the public. Data from Queensland encounters reported to have taken place between 1998 and 2022 were analysed, representing equal temporal distribution before and after federal protection.

Sighting locations were analysed for association with commercial and recreational fishing pressure and environmental protection measures. Size and year of capture were negatively correlated, even over a relatively short time span of 20 years. In addition, while P. zijsron and A. cuspidata are both present on the east coast of Australia, species composition fluctuated drastically moving south, with only A. cuspidata recently confirmed in Southeast Queensland. Spatial data coupled with release condition of each species, suggests where levels of fishing pressure have the greatest potential impact on surviving populations.

This study provides first insights into key habitat for different life history stages on the Queensland coast since becoming federally protected. Additionally, findings highlight the importance of citizen science as a reliable data source, and a platform for the direct involvement of the recreational fishing community in protecting critically endangered species.