FPSR logo 150pxPoster Session at the American Elasmobranch Society Annual Meeting 2011

An Investigation of Internet-Based Sale of Sawfish (Pristidae) Rostra

Emily Warchol, John Waters, Johanna Imhoff, and George Burgess


  • Worldwide decline in populations of critically endangered sawfish species is of considerable concern
  • Bycatch mortality is the predominant threat, but there is also a market for their fins and rostra
  • Rostra are sold as curios and trophies, used as religious offerings, in traditional medicine, in cockfights, as clothing pins, and made into tools
  • While CITES listings make it illegal to internationally trade in fins and rostra of some species, there are still a few data available concerning the internet-based sale of sawfish rostra


  • Records were collected from July 2010 until June 2, 2011 using an internet alert for the sale of sawfish rostra or closely related products
  • Data gathered included: origin of sale (website), possible species ID, species group (smalltooth, largetooth, or knifetooth), sale date, sale price (USD), country of sale, length of rostrum, tooth count, and rostrum condition.
  • Basic statistics were performed for overall trends in sale of sawfish including: mean rostrum price, mean rostrum length, total number of each species group, and percentage of sales by each website.
  • The influences of species, length, and condition on the price of the rostra were investigated. Only records bearing information on all these factors were included in analyses. Most analyses were performed on species-group level identified specimens because of the inherent uncertainty in confirming species identification from largely location-deficient rostra.
  • Location information (country and/or state of sale) was compared


  • Length and rostra condition are the most influential factors in regards to price paid online.
  • Buyers do not seem to be aware or do not care about species or species group in relation to amount they are willing to spend to purchase a sawfish rostrum.
  • Very few rostra have any information regarding location or origin of the rostra. It is also very difficult determine where rostra are shipped after purchase, so it is almost impossible to conclude that laws have been broken in a sale
  • Despite legality of sale either internationally (stated by CITES) or nationally (through the ESA), there are major difficulties in the trade of sawfish rostra including:  
  • Many times species identification is difficult to make by rostral morphometrics alone. Some sales do not even provide photos or include only poor photos.
  • Websites such as EBay and craigslist have little supervision of sales.
  • Appears to be a lack of enforcement and/or punishment with illegal sales.
  • CITES states that “With the exception of a very few countries where some species in the family Pristidae are protected, all international trade is legal.” Therefore species that are not protected can be traded legally. This may continue to encourage the sale of rostra online. This is also only applied to countries that are associated with CITES, which is voluntary to join

With the delicate state of sawfish populations around the world, banning the sale of sawfish rostra should be considered to prevent any unnecessary fishing for sawfish and/or removal of rostra.

AES2011 Warchol Poster