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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries
Monday 16 September 2019

Dry season is a challenge for Kimberley sawfish

​The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) is urging tourists passing through and locals in the Kimberley to report any sawfish that appear to be trapped in shallow river beds.
A rescue effort last month, where two endangered sawfish were successfully relocated from a small and drying pool in the Lennard River east of Derby, offers a valuable example of a public report that led to a successful outcome.

DPIRD staff from Broome office visited the site, where the sawfish were trapped in less than 20 centimetre-deep water, so they called in sawfish expert Dr David Morgan, from Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute, to guide the relocation mission on 19 August, with the aid of Broome TAFE’s live fish transport trailer.

This relocation was supported by the Nyikina Mangala Rangers, who are based in the Jarlmadangah community in the Kimberley. The rangers assessed the condition of the waterhole the sawfish were in, soon after receiving the initial report from a tourist.

The Nyikina Mangala rangers undertake regular monitoring and evaluation of local sawfish populations and have been heavily involved conservation efforts to save this endangered species.

Dr David Morgan (left) and Travis Fazeldean catching the trapped sawfish (photo credit – Murdoch University).

The sawfish were stranded 180 metres from the Lennard River Bridge on the Gibb River Road and placed in purpose-built sawfish slings. The 1.48 metre male sawfish and 1.63 metre female were immediately transferred to a water hole downstream in the May River and released.

DPIRD Supervising Fisheries and Marine Officer for the Broome District Peter Hurst said the expert advice from Doctor Morgan was invaluable in assessing and relocating the sawfish.

“Both sawfish appeared strong on release,” Mr Hurst said. “Reports of freshwater sawfish in the Lennard River are rare, although they have been recorded at Windjana Gorge about 20 kilometres upstream from the capture site.

“There’s no doubt the below average wet season in the Kimberley has contributed to the entrapment of these sawfish, so we ask members of the public to be observant and report what they see so potential relocation can be assessed.

“The freshwater sawfish is a totally protected fish in Western Australia and this is one of the few places in the world where they may not be in immediate danger of extinction, so we need to look after them, especially in the dry season.” 

Trapped sawfish should be reported to FishWatch as soon as possible on 1800 815 507 or call the DPIRD office in Broome on 08 9193 8600.

Last modified: 16/09/2019 2:28 PM

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