PUNTA RASSA, Fla. — An endangered fish dating back over 50 million years was just caught last month in Lee County. It may look like a dinosaur and even was around back then, but the smalltooth sawfish is a very special catch.
Michael Anderson and a friend from Arizona went to go Tarpon fishing, little did they know they were going to catch a living dinosaur. Anderson sent video to Fox 4 of a smalltooth sawfish that he caught a few weeks ago next to Sanibel Causeway. Anderson, a local ER nurse, said it was the catch of his life.
“It was special. We figured it was between 12 and 15 feet long,” said Anderson. “I know that there are only 200 to 5,000 left in the whole world.”
In fact, these sawfish have been listed as endangered since 2003. Anderson was able to reel in the fish after fighting it for over an hour, just to bring it right up against the boat. But right when he went to measure the fish in the water and remove the hook, the sawfish snapped the line a swam away.
“It was a strong fish,” said Anderson. “So, I know it will reproduce and hopefully, it just brings attention to how fragile the ecosystem is and how special it is to catch something like that.”
Ranger Rob Howell is a zoologist; he says sawfish are an important part of the fragile ecosystem we have in Southwest Florida.
“They help keep other levels in the ecosystem in check and in balance,” said Howell. “The way that they hunt helps to aerate the soil, spread seeds for the seagrass and all different kinds of water plants.”
Ranger Rob says sawfish have been hunted to the edge of extinction for their prized saw snout. Poor water quality has also contributed to their endangered status. Howell says they are keystone species, without them, the whole ecosystem would be displaced.
“Losing animals is like a Jenga Board. You can only take so many before the whole thing falls over,” said Howell. “You take off the top layer, the bottom layer gets too strong, and takes out the next layer and it just falls from there.”
If you catch a sawfish, it is best to release them as quickly as possible, while keeping them in the water. You are also asked to report the catch and release to FWC by calling 1-844-4SAWFISH or going to www.sawfishrecovery.com. FWC uses this information to track how the species is recovering.