Sawfishes (Pristidae) are large shark‐like batoids (rays) that are among the most threatened of all marine fishes. While there is a broad consensus of severe sawfish declines globally, detailed status assessments for most of their vast circumtropical distribution do not exist. This paper reviews sawfishes of waters adjacent to the Arabian Peninsula, focusing on the Gulf.1
Until around the 1960s, sawfishes were abundant and widespread in the region, but since around the 1980s, they have been rarely recorded. Sawfishes can now be considered extinct as a functional component of coastal ecosystems, and may be close to being regionally extinct. This assessment is based on the overwhelming weight of evidence from diverse sources such as archaeological data, historical accounts, grey literature, personal communications and extensive fish surveys.
Based on 176 individual records, Pristis zijsron was the most frequently recorded species, occurring in all regional seas. Anoxypristis cuspidata records were limited to the coasts of Iran, Pakistan, and Masirah Island (Oman). The first substantiated Pristis pristis records from the Arabian Peninsula are provided, and two records not identifiable to species do not exclude the possibility that Pristis clavata occurs in the region.
Humans have used sawfishes as a food, oil, trade, and cultural resource for several thousands of years. Fins have been highly valued since at least the mid‐19th century.
Based on recent and historical records, known biology, and marine conservation programmes for other species or habitats, priority areas for sawfish research and recovery programmes are the central southern Gulf; significant mangrove areas in Iran and the UAE; the Musandam Peninsula; and Masirah Island (Oman).
Historical regional declines coincide with the widespread availability of nylon gillnets, to which sawfishes are disproportionately vulnerable. Any attempt at sawfish recovery must enforce strict controls on gillnetting, which could have significant benefits for other marine species of commercial and conservation interest.