Non detriment finding for the Freshwater Sawfish, Pristis microdon

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2011


The original non-detriment finding for freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon) was developed in 2007. This revised non-detriment finding has been developed by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), and following a workshop initiated by the Australian Government to undertake a review of current research on freshwater sawfish in Australia, utilising independent advice regarding the removal of freshwater sawfish from localised river systems in northern Australia, and new scientific research and information about this species.

Pristis microdon is one of four species of sawfish found in Northern Australia. Sawfish are a unique group of elasmobranchs which are characterised by their large size and elongated saw-like rostrum. P. microdon is listed as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), effective July 2000, and critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

P. microdon is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Australia is a signatory. International trade in P. microdon is possible only “for the exclusive purpose of allowing international trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable aquaria for primarily conservation purposes”. CITES also requires that the State of export must determine that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species (known as a ‘non-detriment finding’) prior to approving export.

CITES obligations are given effect domestically by the EPBC Act, which requires that, inter alia, an export permit for a CITES listed species must not be issued by the Minister unless satisfied that the export will not be detrimental to, or contribute to trade which is detrimental to, the survival or recovery of the species, or a relevant ecosystem. This non-detriment finding has been developed to inform the Minister's consideration of this matter for individual decisions about whether to grant an export permit for P. microdon.

Australian populations of P. microdon have undergone decline, although the magnitude of decline is unknown. All available data suggest the decline has been significant in population size, fragmentation, range retraction and that the species continues to be at risk from the impacts of fishing (commercial, recreational, Indigenous, domestic and international illegal unregulated and unreported fishing) and habitat modification. It is not possible to quantify the current rate of mortality for P. microdon and the species exhibits life history characteristics that indicate it is highly sensitive to impacts. As such, it is not possible to conclude with a reasonable level of certainty that any harvest of P. microdon for export purposes would not be detrimental to the survival or recovery of the species. This is consistent with the precautionary principle.