Timber Creek Rangers trained in sawfish monitoring

Date: Dec 19, 2018

Subject: Caring for Country

NLC’s Timber Creek rangers and CSIRO have established a sawfish monitoring program on the Victoria River to record population estimates.

Aron Harrison, Richard Pillans, and Floyd Rogers hold a sawfish on the Victoria River.

Sawfish are one of the most endangered species on the planet, yet this NT waterway is teeming with them.

The first survey in August captured 25 dwarf and largetooth sawfish, and provided the first recorded evidence of the critically endangered speartooth shark and northern river shark in that waterway.

CSIRO researcher Richard Pellens said: “We caught more in two weeks than I’ve caught in 20 years.”

The five-year survey is hoping to shed more light on the sawfish, its behaviour and breeding.

While Australia still supports viable populations in some remote regions, numbers have declined dramatically as a result of bycatch in commercial fisheries, recreational capture as well as habitat modification. 

“They have a big kind of electric hedge trimmer on the end of their body which makes them incredibly susceptible to being stuck in gill nets and trawl nets,” Dr Pellens told the ABC. 

“So while the fishermen aren’t trying to catch them, as soon as [sawfish] come into contact with a net they become stuck.

“And because they’re also one of the largest fish we have — they grow to seven metres in length — getting an animal that size out of a net is quite tricky.”

The partnership between the CSIRO and Timber Creek rangers means Indigenous rangers will be trained in survey methods, capture, handling, measurement and tissue sampling of sawfish and speartooth sharks.

Floyd Rogers was one of the Timber Creek rangers who took part in the survey. 

“I’ve been a full time ranger for 3 years now I enjoyed every trip we have done, but this 7 days on the river was the greatest I have done and learned a lot on this wonderful Vic River,” he said.

“Now I know there is two sorts of sawfish fresh water and saltwater sawfish and great to know there scientific name pristis pristis (fresh water) Pristis clavata (Dwarf salt water). Good to know that other animals on the river are also endangered like spear tooth shark, and northern river shark.

“I had a good time on the river and I’m looking forward to it again next year and I hope we can catch more fresh water saw fish with Dr Richard Pillans.”

Fellow ranger Aron Harrison agreed: “It was a great exercise for me working on the river for the first time. It was really good and I really enjoyed it and I hope I will be doing more surveys on the river and get to know the waterways more. Best time of my life.”