Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
It was meant to be just a normal trip to the beach – all until the shocking discovery of a dead sawfish embedded in the sand with its hallmark long snout cut off.
On Monday 16 November 2020, the lifeless adult sawfish – which is a critically endangered species – was spotted on North Queensland’s Belmunda Beach, just south of Cape Hillsborough near Mackay.
A complaint was made by a member of the public, leading to the attack being investigated by the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol.
Experts believe the species may be a green or a largetooth sawfish, although experienced difficulty in determining this with accuracy with the creature’s rostrum amputated.
In Australian waters, sawfish are a protected species, meaning they must be returned to the water alive by commercial and recreational fishers.
Under Queensland law, the inhumane killing of sawfish, including the removal of its rostrum, is illegal.
Sawfish are termed a “no-take species”, so it is an offence to be in possession of any part of it, with substantial penalties for those who get caught.
In fact, in Queensland under the Fisheries Act 1994, anyone caught in possessing any part of any no-take species can face a maximum fine of $133,450.
Sawfish once used to be abundant around Australia’s coastline, however, their numbers dropped significantly due to factors including net entanglements, water diversion, increasing predator populations and trophy-taking.
In particular, trophy hunters have been known to remove the sawfish’s distinctive rostra for trophies or ornaments, which are then kept or sold.
“I’m F**ken Sick and Tired of Seeing Waterways Abused”: Social Media Erupts as Community Alerted to Maimed Sawfish
Following the incident, a social media post in the Facebook group, Mackay Inshore Boating Buddies Creek to Coast, alerted the community to the mutilated sawfish.
The news of the attack sparked collective disgust from online users, with many expressing their frustrations around the cruel act.
“Such a waste, waste of harmless majestic creature just for a trophy. This sawfish certainly had some age on it and just doesn’t make sense to kill it just for its saw. Your daughter is probably wondering what happened to it and really it’s not a great sight for kids to see such a senseless act left lying around,” petitioned one user.
“It’s a shame that people can be so cruel,” wrote another, which was reinforced by the comment, “Disgusting act it’s illegal to even possess the saw”.
The sentiment continued to echoed as members relayed, “I’m f**ken sick and tired of seeing marine life and waterways abused. Lived here my whole life. This is my home and it really pissed me off to see shit like this happening,” and “Another brain-dead moron that thinks with their arse, if found they need to be deep 6’d with a few bricks around their ankles”.
But perhaps one person summed up the attack best in saying, “Wow they are incredibly rare, what a sad sight”.
Australian Marine Conservation Society Now Demanding Culprit Be Found and Held Accountable
In the aftermath of the incident, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has called for the urgent improvement of protections for threatened marine species.
Moreover, AMCS is requesting the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the attack, demanding the culprit be found and held fully accountable.
Sawfish crucially rely on their snout for survival.
Not only does it allow for them to detect and catch prey, including fish and crustaceans, it also serves as their protection from predators.
Essentially, removing their rostrum is a death sentence should it survive the amputation.
“This would be a horrendous and cruel death for the sawfish and highlights the need for better protection of vulnerable and endangered species like sawfish,” said AMCS fisheries spokesperson Simon Miller.
“Fishing in the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef should be gold standard, not result in the cruel deaths of iconic Australian species. Barbaric practices like this could be stamped out with independent monitoring from cameras or independent observers on fishing boats.
“Australia is considered a lifeboat for sawfish, which have been wiped out in the waters of many other countries. We are urging the Queensland Government to reduce the number of gillnet licences on the Great Barrier Reef through a $10m structural adjustment package for the commercial fishing industry and provide protection to threatened species in habitats critical to their survival.”
Harming Threatened Species, Populations or Ecological Communities Under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 in NSW
Under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), it is against the law to harm a threatened species, population or ecological community.
This is made clear is section 220ZA of the Act, which states that a person must not harm any fish or marine vegetation of a threatened species, population or ecological community.
In NSW, where this is breached in the case of any endangered species, population or ecological community, a maximum penalty of a $220,000 fine and/or imprisonment for two years applies.
Where this is breached in the case of any vulnerable species, a maximum penalty of $55,000 fine and/or imprisonment for one year applies.
An “ecological community” means an assemblage of species of fish or marine vegetation (or both) occupying a particular area.
A “species” means a species of fish or marine vegetation, and includes any defined sub-species and taxon below a sub-species and any recognisable variant of a sub-species or taxon.
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