Similar to others incidents like it reported recently, fishing for sawfish is illegal under Florida law, and banned by the protections set forth by the Endangered Species Act, under which sawfish are listed as endangered. Under this act, it is illegal to "harm, possess, harass, or handle them in any way." Any sawfish caught must be kept in the water "at all times" - meaning that pulling one onto the beach for a photo opportunity is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Florida regulations also bar anglers from attempting "to bring a sawfish close to you or your vessel" or to "land" a sawfish, meaning to bring the fish out of the water.
Unauthorized handling of a sawfish can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 for a first violation.
While it's not yet clear whether charges will be filed against the anglers in this case, the incident has brought the problem of poor education for anglers - especially when it comes to sawfish - into the spotlight.
The population of smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata), the only species native to Florida waters, has been decimated in recent years. Its range has been reduced by 90 percent, while its numbers have fallen by at least 95 percent, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Accidental bycatch, overfishing and habitat loss are the major drivers of this decline.