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  • 04/01/2019 7:39 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    About Reaching Stage Five . . .
    by FGA President, Capt. Charlie Phillips

    When I first started fishing as a young boy in farm ponds in the Piedmont of NC, a good day meant a five-gallon bucket slap full of bream, crappie. And if I was lucky maybe a big old bass. I loved pulling back into to our house to show off that big catch to my family and maybe snapping a picture or two. To me, at that time, success meant having the largest quantity I could possibly have.

    As I got a little older and started hunting a bit, I was required by the Tarheel State to take a hunter’s safety class. It was there that I read this information that has stuck with me for more than 25 years. There are five stages of a hunter (or fisherman as I now realize) and they are as follows:

    • 1.     The shooter stage- the priority is getting off a shot, and many times his desire to shoot will cause the hunter to take a shot that shouldn’t have been attempted. This is usually overcome thru mentoring and range time.
    • 2.     The limiting out stage- the hunter (or fisherman) judge’s success at this point by filling an entire bag limit or having the highest quantity of game/fish harvested possible. This stage is usually overcome by time with more experienced sportsman.
    • 3.     The trophy stage- the hunter (or fisherman) bases the entire experience on quality, not quantity. The goal is a fish or animal of trophy category and lesser quality fish and game is ignored
    • 4.     The method stage- the hunter (or fisherman) places the emphasis on the process of the game they are chasing. They may still want to limit out, but the entire emphasis is based around the process leading up to it.
    • 5.     The sportsman stage- Success is measured by the total experience, the appreciation of the outdoors, the love of the fish/game being pursued, the passion of the hunt, and the blessing of companionship with fellow sportsman.

    I have never forgotten this simple set of stages. If you think about it for a minute, and are personally honest, I would bet you may know what stage you are in at the moment. You probably remember going thru various stages, sometimes even in the same day or trip. This is natural and there is nothing wrong with that fact.

     As I look thru the stages, I think of the brand new boater for stage one, learning the water, learning to fish, they make some errors and learn on the fly. As they gain more experience and get a little more salt in their blood, they usually enter stage two.

    Any of y’all have a buddy that must come back with the maximum amount of snapper or grouper in the box? I know I do. Some folks will never leave this stage. They will for eternity judge the day based on the number of fillets in the cooler. And we as charter captains know this better than most.

    I always try to educate my guest on the importance of taking what you need for dinner, but leaving a few in the water for next time. Most folks get that, some may not and that’s ok too. It’s my opinion that we can use the moment to teach, but it’s also important not to vilify those that are within the laws and bag limits, and may not agree with our way of thinking or us with theirs.

    Again, as charter captains, we deal with this quite often. It’s very tough sometimes to explain to a client from Indiana, who fishes one day a year, how he possibly is making a dent in the sheepshead fishery when he and his three buddies all want to take their 15 fish limit for 60 fish in the box. I mean he’s only fishing one day, right.

    What they forget is that I am on the water for hundreds of days per year, and I am one boat out of thousands. But again, all you can do is educate. On my boats I establish some bag limit rules that are a little more conservative than the actual regulations to make sure the customer is happy as well as leaving a few for tomorrow.

    All of us that are on the water have a love for catching a trophy, and what’s not to love about that? A big snook, a thirty-pound permit, or your first blue marlin. These are the fish we dream about as anglers. But how many of you still get a smile on your face when a ladyfish goes hopping all over the place on a slow day? I know I do. And I love seeing my customers (kids are the best) who think it’s the most fun thing they have ever done. I do have folks that just look at these “trash fish” with disgust, as they only want that big redfish and nothing else.

    That’s their perception of things for whatever reason. There is nothing wrong with it, just different than mine. The trophy stage is something I would think we all go thru and maybe stay in more days than not. It is appreciating the other stages that I find important.

    On the method stage, I instantly think of our beloved hardcore fly-fishing buddies. I throw a fly from time to time, but I will probably always prefer my old spinning reel. To some in the fly world this is blasphemy. They are very focused on the process, very focused on the procedure. Nothing at all wrong with this. Lots of artificial guys are the same exact way.

    I have a good friend who comes with me from time to time on backcountry trips. He always brings the flyrod. Not long ago, we were in an area and were using some ladyfish for cut bait targeting redfish. I told him he couldn’t tell his buddies at the fly shop what we were doing or they would revoke his membership card. And I’ll be darned if he didn’t catch grief when his peers learned he dared use a piece of cut ladyfish. I got a good laugh out of that, at his expense of course. I have a lot of respect for the passion, thought, and process my fly-fishing friends put into their work. They are artist, and the ones that come to mind for me will be in this stage I would think for the rest of their lives. The method is their passion.

    The final stage, the sportsman stage is where I like to think I am now. I am happy on the deck of my boat. I love being on the water each day and seeing the Everglades each morning. I love watching the spoonbills on the bar as I head out to meet the sunrise and hearing the turtles, manatees, and dolphins exhale on a quiet day in the backcountry. And seeing a tarpon roll on a morning where the water is like glass in a back bay, these are the things that I cherish.

    I absolutely love taking a new angler into our fishery for a day on the water. There is nothing better to me than seeing a 60-year-old man, almost giddy with excitement about his 100th time fishing the 10,000 Islands.

    It reminds me in a lot of ways of the 12-year-old boy I had on the previous day who was experiencing his first time in the Glades and had the thrill of the day before him. These are the things that I hold most dear, and can never get enough of.

    Of course, I am running a charter boat, and we have expectations we must meet. But I never lose sight of the fact that for me, I think the fishing is only 50% of the service I am offering. I really try to instill the passion I have for the beauty surrounding us to the folks I bring aboard each day.

    I hope you all take a look at these stages, think about maybe where you are, where you would like to be, and help educate a fellow sportsman on enjoying the experience to the fullest. We are so very blessed to live in the Fishing Capital of the World. And for my FGA Guide member family, we are living the dream of so many others each and every day. That’s something I never take for granted. 

    Thank you for your support of the Florida Guides Association.

    Capt. Charlie Phillips

  • 07/30/2018 11:52 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Sawfish Handling and Release Guidelines

    Smalltooth sawfish are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to target, harm, harass, or handle them in any way.  While it is technically illegal to catch a sawfish (except with a research permit or in a fishery where incidental take has been authorized) captures do occur while fishing for other species.  Any sawfish caught while fishing must be released as quickly as possible. 

    The guidelines below were developed to aid anglers in quickly and safely releasing incidentally caught sawfish.  These guidelines take into account the safety of both the endangered sawfish and the angler.  Sawfish are large, powerful animals that can cause serious injury, so use caution if you do catch one.

    The number one rule to remember when handling and releasing a sawfish is to leave it in the water at all times.  Do not lift it out of the water onto your boat or a pier, and do not drag it on shore. 

    General Release Guidelines:

    • ·         Leave the sawfish in the water – never lift or drag it onto a boat, pier, or shore
    • ·         Never remove the saw (rostrum) or injure the animal in any way
    • ·         Remove as much fishing gear as safely possible
    • ·         Use extreme caution when handling and releasing sawfish as the saw can thrash violently from side to side
    • ·         Never use a gaff or rope to secure a sawfish

    If hooked:

    • ·         Leave the sawfish, especially the gills, in the water
    • ·         If it can be done safely, untangle any line wrapped around the saw
    • ·         Cut the line as close to the hook as possible

    If tangled in a cast net:

    • ·         Leave the sawfish, especially the gills, in the water
    • ·         Untangle and cut the net removing as much of it as possible from the animal
    • ·         Release the sawfish quickly

    Sawfish are extremely susceptible to entanglement in recreational fishing lines and commercial nets.  Mishandling and the purposeful injury or killing of captured sawfish is both illegal and detrimental to the recovery of the population.  Never use a gaff on a sawfish you have caught and never remove the rostrum.  Sawfish use their rostrum for detecting and catching food so in addition to being illegal, removal of the rostrum severely limits the animal’s chance to find enough food to survive.     

    If you catch or see a sawfish take a quick photograph of the sawfish, estimate its size, note your location, and share the details with scientists.  The details of your sightings or catches of sawfish help to monitor the population and track the recovery progress.  You can share your information by calling 844-4-SAWFISH (844-472-9347) or emailing    

    Some fishermen have expressed concern that reporting encounters will result in the closure of their favorite fishing locations.  However, the smalltooth sawfish is already listed as an endangered species and critical habitat has been designated and neither of these actions has resulted in any closed fishing areas for recreational or commercial anglers.  Your encounter reports will be used to track recovery of the population and steer research efforts, which will ultimately benefit the species and the areas in which you fish.  Adam Brame, the Sawfish Recovery Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, said “We are confident that NOAA and recreational anglers can work together to recover smalltooth sawfish so future generations can experience the thrill of encountering such a unique animal.”

    For more information about sawfish visit: or

  • 06/26/2018 11:15 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    New IUCN Report Charts Path to Saving Sawfish
    by guest author Sonja Fordham

    New strategies for saving the world’s sawfishes were the focus of a special session of the Sharks International conference held last month in Brazil. The event featured an expert panel reviewing a new sawfish report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group (SSG). The experts highlighted progress in sawfish research and conservation, in line with the SSG’s 2014 Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy, while amplifying alarm bells about the immediate risk of losing these iconic species in many places around the globe.

    Sawfish were once found in the coastal waters and rivers of 78 tropical and subtropical countries. Today, all five species are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Mortality from targeted and incidental fishing is the main cause. Sawfish rostra are valued as curios and for traditional medicine in many countries, while individual teeth are prized as spurs for cockfighting in much of South America and the Caribbean. Sawfish fins are exceptionally valuable for shark fin soup in Asia.

    The SSG’s Global Sawfish Strategy aims to minimize threats through fisheries management, species protection, habitat conservation, trade limitation, and strategic research. To enable success, the group also set forth objectives for education, outreach, capacity building, responsible husbandry, communication, and fundraising. The update report is the product of an expert workshop held in November 2017. It includes the latest population status information and details significant advances over recent years, including the listing of all five sawfish species under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

    Because the U.S. has implemented relatively strong protections for sawfish and associated habitat, the SSG has characterized it (along with Australia) as a “lifeboat” for the species. The Caribbean is one of four regions designated as a “beacon of hope” because significant yet under-protected sawfish populations persist and are in need of urgent attention. The SSG has developed tailored, short-term sawfish conservation strategies for each of these regions, based on varying circumstances, and outlined them in the new report.

    For the Caribbean, two coinciding 2017 policy developments complement the CMS listing and provide important opportunities for beneficial regional change: the listing of Smalltooth Sawfish on Annex II of the Protocol for Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife for the Wider Caribbean (SPAW Protocol) and an official recommendation for sawfish protection from the Shark Working Group of the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC).

    To formulate the Caribbean strategy, experts examined countries’ association with these treaties, likelihood of still having sawfish, and policy track record. Successful efforts to stem Florida sawfish declines and secure an international trade ban position the U.S. well for a leadership role. The SSG is encouraging the U.S. to partner with the Netherlands and Bahamas to spearhead sawfish initiatives for the wider Caribbean. Cuba, Colombia, and Costa Rica were identified as key countries needing immediate research and/or protection. Other regional priority actions outlined by the SSG for the Caribbean include:

    • §  National sawfish protection promotion through SPAW, WECAFC, and CMS
    • §  Habitat conservation promotion through SPAW and UN projects
    • §  Largetooth Sawfish listing in SPAW Protocol Annex II 
    • §  Expanded membership by key countries: SPAW Protocol, WECAFC, and CMS
    • §  Surveys for Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras
    • §  Assessment of regional fisheries’ interactions with and use of sawfish.

    The other “beacons of hope” are the Amazon Delta, the Western Indian Ocean, and Australasia.

    Panelists stressed that, despite some good progress, time is running out for many sawfish populations. The update document lays out next steps under the Strategy and meaningful actions that people all over the world, from all walks of life, can do to help turn the tide.

    The SSG Global Sawfish Strategy Update, the full Strategy, and associated materials are available at

    Sonja Fordham serves as Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. She is the President of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation dedicated to advancing science-based conservation policies for sharks and rays.

  • 04/03/2018 10:15 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Carcasses provide valuable information

    Scientists with the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute collect valuable biological data from anglers for studies of the common snook, Centropomus undecimalis.Capt. Charlie Conner Photo

    Scientists with the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) are asking snook anglers to save their filleted carcasses and take them to a participating bait and tackle store in their area. These carcasses provide information on the size, age, maturity and sex of the catch. This program allows anglers to participate in the collection of data regarding Florida's premier inshore game fish. FWRI conducts applied research and provides scientific information used to manage Florida's marine resources.

    Guidelines for donating snook carcasses:

    • All regulations apply. Donate only legal snook during snook season.
    • Donate all sizes that you harvest. (Donating only large fish will bias the data.)
    • Donate as many fish and as often as you can; however, do not harvest fish for the program. Keep only those snook you would normally keep.
    • Donate both tagged and untagged fish. If a snook is tagged, please report tag information to the Angler Tag Return Hotline at 800-367-4461.
    • When filleting, please leave all internal organs intact.

    Drop-off locations:
    (updated 02/19/2018)

    Brevard County:
    Whitey’s Bait & Tackle, 9030 S. Highway A1A, Melbourne Beach

    Broward County:
    Custom Rod and Reel, 1835 NE 25th Street, Lighthouse Point
    Anglers Bait and Tackle, 230 East Dania Beach Boulevard, Dania Beach

    Charlotte County:
    Stump Pass Marina, 260 Maryland Avenue, Englewood
    Gasparilla Marina, 15001 Gasparilla Road, Placida
    Captain Ted’s Tackle, 1189 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte
    King Fisher Fleet at Fishermen’s Village Marina, 1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda

    Collier County:
    Cocohatchee River Park Marina, 13531 Vanderbilt Drive, Naples
    Caxambas Pass Park and Marina, 909 Collier Court, Marco Island

    Hillsborough County:
    Gandy Bait & Tackle, 4923 Gandy Boulevard, Tampa

    Lee County:
    Lehr’s Economy Tackle, 1366 N. Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers
    The Bait Box, 1041 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island
    Fish Tale Marina, 7225 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach

    Miami-Dade County:
    Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply, 8501 NW 7th Avenue, Miami
    Don’s Bait and Tackle, 90 N. Homestead Boulevard, Homestead

    Manatee County:
    Discount Tackle Outlet, 3113 1st Street, Bradenton

    Palm Beach County:
    FWC-FWRI Tequesta Field Laboratory, 19100 Southeast Federal Highway, Tequesta
    Fishing Headquarters, 633A Alternate A1A, Jupiter
    Lott Bros., 631 Northlake Boulevard, North Palm Beach

    Pinellas County:
    I.C. Sharks, 13040 Gandy Boulevard, St. Petersburg
    Belleair Bait and Tackle Co., 3900 West Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs
    Angler 360 Bait and Tackle, 290 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin

    Sarasota County:
    New Pass Grill and Bait Shop, 1505 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota
    CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, 1249 Stickney Point Road, Siesta Key
    Osprey Harbor Club, 582 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey

    Proceeds from saltwater fishing license sales and the snook stamp, as well as the Sport Fish Restoration Program, provide funding for this project.

    The following numbers provide answers and information about common snook:
    East coast: Jim Whittington 561-575-5407
    West coast: Alexis Trotter at 727-896-8626

    Additional Information:
    Sport Fish Restoration Program
    Snook Research Information
    Snook Photo Gallery

  • 02/28/2018 8:25 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Crystal anniversary for sawfish in the U.S.

    April 1, 2018, will mark a milestone for smalltooth sawfish of the United States.  Fifteen years ago, the species was listed as an endangered species because scientists determined that the population was at risk of extinction.  The listing was the result of information that indicated the U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish had dramatically declined due to
    overfishing, habitat loss, and the species’ limited reproductive potential.  And on April 1, 2003, the smalltooth sawfish became the first fully-marine fish and first elasmobranch (sharks, skates, and rays) protected by U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

    After the listing, NOAA Fisheries convened the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Team to develop a plan to recover the U.S. smalltooth sawfish population.  Recovery plans serve as road maps for species recovery—they lay out where we need to go and how best to get there.  The team worked several years to build additional knowledge of the species and to identify the most severe threats to the population.  The recovery plan was published in 2009 and recommends specific steps to recover the population, focusing on (1) educating the public to minimize human interactions with sawfish and any associated injury and mortality, (2) protecting and/or restoring important sawfish habitats, and (3) ensuring sawfish abundance and distribution increase.  Once the plan was published NOAA Fisheries convened a team to begin implementing the Recovery Plan with the ultimate goal of protecting and expanding the remaining sawfish population in the U.S.  (Sawfish News author Tonya Wiley is an appointed member of the Smalltooth Sawfish Recovery Implementation Team)   

     Guidance for recreational anglers to follow to release any sawfish caught while fishing. Remember, due to their protected status it is illegal to target, harm, harass, or handle sawfish in any way.  Any sawfish caught while fishing must be released as quickly as possible.  When handling and releasing a sawfish, leave it in the water at all times.  Do not lift it out of the water on to your boat or a pier, and do not drag it on shore. Credit Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation

    At the time of the listing in 2003 scientists knew very little about the biology, ecology, and population dynamics of smalltooth sawfish.  The Recovery Plan identified actions and research goals aimed at gaining a better understanding of the species and the population.  And over the last 15 years, scientists from multiple agencies, universities, and organizations have collaborated to research the smalltooth sawfish population in the United States.  We now know more about their size and age at maturity, the number of young they give birth to, the food they eat, their large- and small-scale movement patterns and habitat use, and their response to a variety of stressors.  These research results greatly improved our understanding of the species and made it clear that we needed to update the Recovery Plan.  The team began the revision in 2016, and the new plan will update the state of knowledge of the species, identify our next research goals, and prioritize the actions needed to reach recovery as quickly as possible.    

    Credit Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation

    The ultimate goal of the Endangered Species Act is to conserve listed species to the point they are recovered and no longer need the protections afforded by the Act.  Developing recovery and implementation teams is just one tool used in the conservation of listed (threatened or endangered) species.  The sawfish team has been an excellent example of collaboration and dedication by multiple partners for the good of the species, and the sawfish population is already showing some positive signs of recovery.  Continued proper management and protections of the species and its habitats will ensure that sawfish numbers increase and their range expands.  

    One of the best methods of monitoring the population and tracking recovery progress is the use of public sawfish encounters.  If you catch or see a sawfish please share the information with scientists by calling 1-844-4-SAWFISH (1-844-472-9347) or emailing

    For more information about endangered sawfish, visit: or

    or call 1-844-4SAWFISH

  • 02/01/2018 11:18 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Cold Threatens Florida Snook Again
    by Brett Fitzgerald, SGF Executive Director

    It's chilly out there. In fact, it's downright cold in some of Florida's typically balmy coastal regions. Whether you appreciate the break from the heat or you are suddenly longing for our typically warm weather, it is worth taking a minute to think about how the weather impacts our snook and other tropical fish.

    For many, the current dip in weather immediately reminds us of how badly snook were impacted back in 2010. Luckily, the current weather event is not projected to be nearly as impactful. Back then, we had freakishly cold temperatures for over a week, with drizzling rain and consistent wind. That led to a lot of 'cold kill' fish deaths.

    So far, this event is shaping up to be less severe for a few reasons. First, it shouldn't last nearly as long. Water cools much slower than the air, so a couple days of chilly nights and cloudy days is far less damaging than a week or more. It also has been a little cooler for a few days, which might have provided a signal for snook up in shallower waters to skedaddle to deeper, safer waters before the chill sets in.

    Another difference between this snap and 2010 is the wind direction, which has a bigger impact on the fish along the west coast. Waters from the Everglades up through the Tampa area are a lot more shallow than on the east coast, where deeper waters - warmed from the tropical Gulf Stream - are right next door to many fish hang-outs.

    If you'll recall, the 2010 freeze featured consistent NE winds which blew the west coast tides out and never let them come back in. That trapped a lot of snook in the shallow back country, where they froze by the tens of thousands. If the current winds hold, there might be enough water in the cuts and runs for snook to head to the safety of warmer, deeper waters for a few days.

    All that said, there will be cold related fish kills over the next week or so, and many of them will be snook. As usual, you can expect to see more of that along the northern fringes of the snook populations.

    Usually, as the trapped snook start to chill, they will slow down and start to swim erratically near the surface, then eventually roll on their side or back and lay still in a stunned state. If it is only a short cold snap and the sun warms water right away, they might survive - at least for a while. But more than likely this leads to death.

    As retired FWC snook guru Ron Taylor has pointed out to me many times in the past, many snook that survive the initial cold blast end up dying within a few weeks because their slime coating and/or immune system is damaged, and they are more susceptible to parasites and diseases.

    If you are on the water a lot, you will probably see some stunned or dead snook. Here's what you should do.

    First, don't touch them. If they look dead, they might not be and bothering them in their severely stunned state won't be doing them any favors. And if they are dead and an FWC officer happens to find out you are grabbing them up, you won't be doing yourself any favors either.

    Speaking of FWC, I was recently reminded that the winter closure in Florida is directly related to weather events just like this. SGF member Capt. Danny Barrow called me after he filmed an episode of "XGEN Fishing Show" with owner Andy Alvarez, and they were talking about snook closed seasons on the show ( A question arose as to exactly why there is a winter closure. A quick call to Jim Whittington at FWC reminded us that the closure was originally put in place because of weather events just like the one we are experiencing. It is illegal to harvest cold-stunned or killed snook, for a variety of reasons (which we hope are obvious to you). To keep FWC officers from having to investigate every snook they encounter in a cooler during an extreme cold snap, it was agreed that the most prudent move would be to eliminate any harvest, making life better for our officers, our snook, and in the long run us snook anglers too.

    Back to What-To-Do: Your second move should be to report the killed fish to FWC's Fish Kill hotline. You can do this by phone (800-636-0511) or online at This is actually better than calling your regional FWC office, even if you know there are snook researchers there. The reason is, the hotline is where the information is consolidated across the state, and that is the source of info that will tell the regional offices where to look for issues.

    • 1.      Finally, this little snap needs to serve us all as a reminder of the importance of logging all of our catches in iAngler, using the app or website (  The 2010 snap is what started the iAngler program in the first place. Since then, the data has been used in stock assessments for a variety of species in Florida, and has branched out to help other fisheries better their understanding of the fisheries (most recently Atlantic Red Snapper). But it only works if we log our catches. It's free, and it is a superior personal log book for you. Visit your app store and download the free app, iAngler, and start logging ASAP. This will help across all facets of fishery conservation, including how best to respond after a cold episode like this one.

    In summary: Keep your eyes open for stunned or killed fish for the next couple weeks. Report fish kills to FWC. And log your catch in iAngler!

    Brett Fitzgerald served as Chairman from 2009-2011, and as Regional Director (SouthEast) for three years prior.  He is a contributing editor to Florida Sportsman Magazine, and a special education instructor at in the Palm Beach County school system for 16 years where he promotes an academic curriculum through environmentalism and resource conservation. Brett served in the United States Army in both Intelligence and as a Paratrooper with Special Forces Operations. He attended University of South Florida and holds a Bachelor's and a Masters degree in Communications Sciences and Disorders. He is an avid guitar player, fly tyer, photographer and fisherman. Brett was chosen as Snook and Gamefish Foundation's 2009 Person on the Year for his accomplishments on behalf of inshore fishing, and in that year he also completed the book, Sportsman's Best: Snook.

  • 02/01/2018 10:29 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Tracking Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish
    by guest author Andrea Kroetz, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center

    Acoustic tagging has become increasingly important for science.  Scientists are using this amazing technology to track critically endangered smalltooth sawfish in south Florida to better understand their movement patterns and habitat use. Telemetry data are helpful to fishery managers who are designing plans to recover and conserve this endangered species. 

    Photo 1: Map of tagging (gold star) and detection locations (blue balloons) of an adult female smalltooth sawfish tagged and tracked in 2017.  Credit: Andrea Kroetz, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center.

    Scientists place stationary acoustic receivers in key locations to collect and archive data remotely from tagged sawfish as they pass within range of the receiver. Each acoustic tag has a unique identification number and transmit information on the date and time at which the animal passes near a receiver. Although data collection by the acoustic receivers is limited by the number and location of receivers in place (e.g., an animal must past near a receiver for the data to be collected), large acoustic sharing networks are in place to allow multiple institutions with active acoustic arrays to collect and share data with colleagues tagging and tracking animals (e.g., iTAG and FACT networks, > 1000 receivers).

    Photo 2: Andrea Kroetz, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, surgically implants an acoustic tag into a juvenile smalltooth sawfish. All research conducted under permits ESA 17787 and EVER-2017-SCI-0022. Photo credit: Desirée Gardner Photography.

    So far over 30 smalltooth sawfish have been tagged with long-term acoustic tags and these tags have already provided invaluable data on the movements of both juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish. Here is an exciting example of how the technology works.

    In April of 2017, an adult female smalltooth sawfish was tagged offshore of the Florida Keys. The sawfish traveled up the west coast of Florida, and then a month later she was detected near the Charlotte Harbor Estuary. She spent the next several months swimming up and down the west coast of south Florida before she was detected in the backcountry waters of Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park. This is the first documented case of an adult smalltooth sawfish moving into the Charlotte Harbor Estuary and into backcountry waters. This also highlights the importance of protecting smalltooth sawfish critical habitat and the value of protected areas such as the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Eve

    rglades National Park.  

    Photo 3: An adult smalltooth sawfish captured offshore of the Florida Keys during Florida State University Coastal & Marine Laboratory research.  All research conducted under ESA permit 17787.  Photo credit: Blair Witherington, Disney.  

    As collaborative acoustic networks continue to expand, and the technology improves, the opportunities to gather vital information on smalltooth sawfish will increase and improve our ability to manage and protect the population to recovery.

    All research is conducted under Endangered Species Act permit #17787 and Everglades National Park permit #EVER-2017-SCI-0022.  To learn more, or if you have questions about ongoing sawfish research or management, please call 1-844-4SAWFISH.  

    Tonya Wiley, President, Havenworth Coastal Conservation

    Tonya can be reached at 941-201-2685 or
    You can follow Havenworth Coastal Conservation:

  • 12/31/2017 9:58 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Science to Save the Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish
    by Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation

    Several research partners conduct various research activities on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the endangered smalltooth sawfish population in the United States. These partners include state and federal governments, universities, nonprofits, and international organizations.  The results of these research projects are used to inform management decisions and enhance recovery efforts for this endangered species.

    Collecting Sawfish Data

    Researchers collect sawfish data using a variety of methods: (1) carcasses that are found and collected, (2) sawfish incidentally caught in federal fisheries, and (3) sawfish that are collected during research field surveys for the species.  Necropsies of sawfish carcasses provide the opportunity to collect data necessary for understanding age, growth, maturity, and reproduction.  Carcass recoveries provide valuable opportunities because these data are especially important and can only be collected through dissection, and researchers are not interested in sacrificing any individuals from the wild of a critically endangered species.     

    Fisheries observers aboard commercial fishing vessels are trained to sample any sawfish incidentally captured in federal fisheries.  These chance opportunities provide valuable insight in to where fisheries overlap with sawfish and the condition of sawfish upon release.

    Research field surveys for smalltooth sawfish are the most important method for collecting data.  A variety of survey methods are used to capture live sawfish for scientific purposes, including longline, rod-and-reel, and gillnets. Once captured, measurements and samples are taken from each sawfish prior to tagging and release.  These surveys are instrumental in monitoring trends in the abundance of the population.


    Small tissue samples are collected during field capture of live sawfish and from old rostra for genetic analysis.  Genetics are useful in understanding population structure, diversity within the population, and both the size and health of the current population in comparison to the historical one.  Scientists are using genetics to determine whether there is significant movement and genetic exchange between the U.S. and Bahamas populations of smalltooth sawfish.

    Blood samples are collected from sawfish to measure reproductive status and stress physiology.  Hormones within the blood are used to assess reproductive cycling and periodicity.  Blood samples for stress physiology can be used to assess post-release mortality risk from a variety of fisheries and gears.

    Acoustic Tracking  

    Scientists are using the most recent technology to track the movements of smalltooth sawfish. This tracking involves capturing the animals, equipping them with acoustic transmitters, and releasing them.  Depending on the objectives of the project, scientists may track them from a boat using hydrophones to determine short-term microhabitat use or set up a network of in-water receivers (acoustic listening stations) to track longer-term broad-scale movements. Acoustic transmitters can be active for up to 10 years.  

    Satellite Tagging

    Larger juvenile and adult sawfish caught during surveys are also often fitted with GPS satellite tags.  Because far less is known about these larger animals, researchers hope that satellite tags can reveal important adult habitats.  Satellite tagging studies to date have shown that larger sawfish spent a large portion of their time in shallow coastal waters with periodic excursions to deeper waters off the shelf edge.

    Population Monitoring Through Encounter Reports

    If you catch or see a sawfish take a quick photograph of the sawfish, estimate its size, note your location, and please share the details with scientists.  The details of your sightings or catches of sawfish help to monitor the population and track the recovery progress.  You can share your information by calling 1-844-4-SAWFISH (844-472-9347) or emailing  

    In upcoming “Sawfish News” articles this year I will provide more details about the organizations working on each of these important components of the sawfish research projects. 

    For more information about endangered sawfish, visit:


    or call 1-844-4SAWFISH

  • 11/29/2017 5:27 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Decline and Recovery of Sawfish in the United States
    by Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation  

    Their odd appearance and awesome size made them a prized catch for recreational fishermen.  Their unique elongated, blade-like snouts, studded with teeth on both sides, were often kept as trophies.  Net fishermen on the other hand considered them a nuisance because of the damage they would cause to their gear. 

    Two species of sawfish were once found in the US:  the largetooth sawfish, Pristis pristis, and the smalltooth sawfish, Pristis pectinata.  The largetooth sawfish was found throughout the Gulf of Mexico but was more common in western Gulf waters of Texas and Mexico.  The smalltooth sawfish ranged from Texas to New York and was most plentiful in the eastern Gulf waters of Florida.  Both sawfish species were considered “abundant” and “common” in the early 1900’s.  Numerous postcards, photographs, and newspaper articles from that era bear the scene of fishermen hauling in countless sawfish to boats, docks, and beaches across the country. 

    Photo 1: The Florida state record was caught by William Bloyd in Florida Bay in 1961, a 648 pound smalltooth sawfish measuring 15 feet 4 inches.

    Unfortunately the largetooth sawfish has not been seen in the United States since the last confirmed record in 1943.  The smalltooth sawfish has fared better and still remains in US waters, though at greatly reduced numbers and geographic range.  Today the smalltooth sawfish is found predominately in southwest Florida, notably including Everglades National Park (ENP).  The vast expanse of natural habitat within ENP, and limited fishing pressure, likely served as a refuge for sawfish as the population was under constant pressure. 

    What happened to these grand fish?  What caused them to vanish from much of our coastal waters?  The decline was due to a combination of three primary factors: (1) overfishing, (2) low reproductive potential, and (3) habitat loss. 

    Photo 2: The Texas state record was caught by Gus Pangarakis off the Galveston north jetty in 1939, a 736 pound largetooth sawfish measuring 14 feet 7 inches.

    Fishing mortality contributed significantly to the decline of sawfish in the US.  Many sawfish caught recreationally were landed and displayed for photographs.  Others were killed as anglers removed their saws for trophies.  Commercial fishermen killed sawfish to save their gear, not wanting to cut their valuable nets to remove captured sawfish.  And sawfish were over-exploited for a variety of other reasons.  Their meat was used for food, their skin for leather, and their liver oil used in lamps and as a source of vitamin A.  Their fins are valued for shark fin soup, their rostral teeth used as artificial spurs in cock-fighting, their cartilage ground-up for traditional medicines, and their saws sold as curios and ceremonial weapons.

    The reproductive strategy of sawfish doesn’t help them withstand these threats.  Sawfish bear live young, take many years to reach sexual maturity, and produce very few offspring per reproductive cycle.  This doesn’t allow sawfish to replenish the population very quickly.  This was especially problematic historically as they were being removed far more quickly than they were able to reproduce.  And it’s why now it is crucial to keep fishing mortality low in order to recover this endangered species.    

    Born at about 2 feet in length, juvenile sawfish rely on very shallow, coastal and estuarine waters close to shore for safety from predators, such as sharks, during the first years of their life.  However, these shallow coastal waters are the same areas that have been converted to waterfront development.  Now much of the natural shoreline vegetation has been developed into seawalls, beaches, marinas, roads, canals, and docks.  Therefore the natural vegetation and shallow habitats previously used by sawfish as important protective nursery areas have been greatly reduced in quantity and all but eliminated in some areas.

    Due to the dramatic decline of the sawfish populations, The Ocean Conservancy petitioned National Marine Fisheries Service in 1999 to protect both species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The smalltooth sawfish was classified as Endangered in 2003, making it the first fully marine fish and first elasmobranch (sharks, skates, and rays) protected by the ESA.  The largetooth sawfish was listed as Endangered in 2011.      

    Will sawfish in the United States recover?  Unfortunately, the largetooth sawfish is probably locally extinct and gone for good from US waters.  The smalltooth sawfish just might make a comeback; the population is already showing promising signs following protective measures.  Information on smalltooth sawfish recovery planning can be found at

    One of the best methods of monitoring the population as it recovers is the use of public sawfish encounters.  If you catch or see a sawfish take a quick photograph of it, estimate its size, note your location, and share the information with scientists.  The details of your sightings or catches help to track recovery progress.  You can share your information by calling 1-844-4-SAWFISH (1-844-472-9347) or emailing  Information about historic catches or the location of any old sawfish saws is also appreciated. 

    Remember, due to their protected status it is illegal to target, harm, harass, or handle sawfish in any way.  While it is technically illegal to catch a sawfish (except with a research permit or in a fishery where incidental take has been authorized) captures do occur while fishing for other species.  Any sawfish caught while fishing must be released as quickly as possible.  The number one rule to remember when handling and releasing a sawfish is to leave it in the water at all times.  Do not lift it out of the water on to your boat or a pier, and do not drag it on shore.  

  • 11/01/2017 11:26 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    What Does the Smalltooth Sawfish Critical Habitat Designation Mean?
    by Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation 

    Following a listing as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the US population of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) in 2003, NOAA Fisheries (NMFS) designated critical habitat for the species in 2009.  But what exactly does that mean and what does that do?

    The primary reason for the decline of the smalltooth sawfish population in the United States was mortality following capture in various commercial and recreational fisheries.  The secondary reason for the decline was habitat loss largely associated with coastal development and degradation.  So the preservation of habitat is an important consideration for conserving the species.

    Photo Credit: Juan Valadez, Two juvenile smalltooth sawfish swim in very shallow water near a river mouth in Everglades National Park.

    For the purpose of the ESA, critical habitat is defined as the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing, that contain physical or biological features (1) essential to conservation, and (2) which may require special management considerations or protection.  The definition also includes a provision for specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing if the agency determines that the area itself is essential for conservation.

    A critical habitat designation protects certain features, particular attributes, of an area that are necessary to ensure the species does not go extinct and can recover to the point that protections of the ESA are no longer necessary.  For smalltooth sawfish the features determined to be essential to the conservation of the species are red mangroves and shallow, euryhaline habitats characterized by water depths between the Mean High Water line and 3 feet measured at Mean Lower Low Water.  Euryhaline means the area can have a wide range of salt content, or salinity, due to tidal fluctuations and freshwater input as occurs in estuaries, bays, and lower reaches of rivers.  These features were determined to be essential because they provide nursery habitat for small, young sawfish providing both shelter from predators and an abundant source of prey.

    Photo credit: Tonya Wiley, Havenworth Coastal Conservation: A researcher prepares to release a juvenile smalltooth sawfish captured in shallow water along a mangrove shoreline in Florida Bay.  Research conducted under ESA permit #1352.   

    Two specific areas (units) located along the southwest coast of peninsular Florida were included in the critical habitat designation for smalltooth sawfish: the northern Charlotte Harbor Estuary Unit and the southern Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades Unit.     

    Photo credit: NMFS Office of Protected Resources: The two units of designated smalltooth sawfish critical habitat.

    So now that we’ve described why sawfish critical habitat was designated and defined both the areas and features of critical habitat, let’s look at how this affects coastal residents.  How is the designation applied and what does it mean for coastal development or recreational activities?  And how does the designation conserve the species?

    The designation of critical habitat provides a significant regulatory protection—the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation with NOAA Fisheries under section 7of the ESA, that their actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.  The Federal Government, through its role in water management, flood control, regulation of resource extraction and other industries, Federal land management, and the funding, authorization, and implementation of a myriad other activities, may propose actions that are likely to affect critical habitat.  The designation ensures that the Federal Government considers the effects of its actions on critical habitat and avoids or modifies those actions that are likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.   

    Critical habitat can contribute to the conservation of endangered species in several ways.  Designation under the ESA triggers a federal agency’s obligation to use their authorities to further the purposes of the Act which includes proactive conservation efforts.  Designation also helps focus the conservation efforts of other partners, such as State and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals.  

    Photo credit: Dana M. Bethea, NOAA Fisheries: A neonate (newborn) smalltooth sawfish was captured and released on a muddy bank along a mangrove shoreline in Everglades National Park.  Research conducted under ESA permit #1352.

    The critical habitat designation for smalltooth sawfish does not necessarily prevent a homeowner from building a dock or repairing a seawall, result in new slow motor zones, close an area to fishing, or limit access to areas.  What the designation does do is add levels of review to ensure that any project which could alter those essential features is carefully considered before federal permits are authorized or funds are allocated.  In the case of smalltooth sawfish, critical habitat was designated in 2009 and has not resulted in any closed areas or lost recreational opportunities.  But it has led to the protection of shallow, mangrove-lined habitats which are important to the recovery of the smalltooth sawfish population.

    For more information about the designation of critical habitat for smalltooth sawfish visit:

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