A Jacksonville man faces up to a year in prison and up to a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty Friday to killing an endangered sawfish.
A Jacksonville man faces a potential sentence up to one year in federal prison and a possible fine up to $50,000 for killing a sawfish, which is an endangered species.
Chad Ponce, 38, pleaded guilty Friday to killing the sawfish, which is protected under federal law, U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said in a news media release.
Ponce was seen on July 18, last year removing the rostrum from a live 12-foot smalltooth sawfish with a power saw aboard his fishing vessel off the coast of Ponte Vedra Beach, an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revealed.
Lopez said a sentencing date has not yet been set in the case.
Sawfishes are a family of rays characterized by a long, narrow and flattened nose known as a rostrum, lined with sharp teeth, arranged in a way that resembles a saw.
Federal wildlife researchers say sawfish are among the largest fish, with some species reaching lengths of up to 17 feet. The fish is found in significant numbers only in the southeastern United States — primarily off the southwest coast of Florida for the smalltooth sawfish, and in Australia for the largetooth, according to the researchers.
At one time, both species were found worldwide, throughout tropical and subtropical regions in coastal marine and estuarial waters, as well as freshwater rivers and lakes.
In Florida, the smalltooth sawfish depends on estuarial mangrove waters on the southern and southwest borders of the state. That is where they breed and give birth, researchers say.
The smalltooth sawfish has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since May 1, 2003 because its population in the waters surrounding Florida, and the rest of the United States has declined severely during the last century, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The agency cites two major reasons for the decline.
Sawfish often were caught as bycatch in commercial and recreational fisheries. The species also has limited reproductive potential, which restricts population recovery, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Sawfish were easily, and often accidentally captured because their rostrum would get entangled in fishing nets. The fish were caught in recreational fisheries because their saw was a popular trophy item.
The species is generally harmless to humans although they can inflict serious injury with their saws if threatened, according to researchers,
The rostrum of the sawfish is used by the animal to locate and disable its prey, Scientists believe it also carries sensory cells that assist the animal in orienting itself to time and location.
The smalltooth sawfish cannot survive without its rostrum, researchers said.