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For Immediate Release, November 20, 2008

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 308

Florida's Smalltooth Sawfish to Gain Habitat Protection

SAN FRANCISCO— The federal government today proposed to protect critical habitat for the endangered smalltooth sawfish along the southwestern coast of Florida between Charlotte Harbor and Florida Bay. Published in today’s Federal Register, the rule proposes to protect areas in Florida that are essential for the conservation and recovery of the sawfish. The proposed rule comes in response to a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity against the Bush administration for its delay in protecting habitat for several marine species at risk of extinction. The Endangered Species Act requires critical habitat designation for species as soon as they are listed under the act, but in practice such protection rarely occurred under the Bush administration without litigation.

Listed as endangered in 2003, the smalltooth sawfish population has declined by 95 percent. The sawfish, a relative of the shark, has a distinctive serrated snout that looks like a saw. The sawfish was overharvested for its saw-like appearance, popular in the curio trade. Entanglement in fishing gear also poses a threat to the fish. Once common in U.S. waters off Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico, the species is now rarely found, occurring primarily in Florida Bay and near the Everglades. Loss of habitat due to activities such as agricultural and commercial development, dredge-and-fill operations, boating, erosion, and pollution threatens the smalltooth sawfish with extinction.

“Protecting habitat is a vital step in protecting endangered species,” said Miyoko Sakashita, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “According to the federal government’s own data, species granted critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act are twice as likely to recover as those without protected habitat.”

Critical habitat informs local communities about the importance of protecting habitat for wildlife to conserve our nation’s natural heritage. Once designated, federal actions, such as permits, that may affect critical habitat of the smalltooth sawfish will have to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure that their activities do not adversely affect that habitat.

The federal government is accepting comments on the proposed critical habitat designation for the smalltooth sawfish for 60 days.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.


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