The iconic sawfish is endangered worldwide. The four species within northern Australian waters are susceptible to habitat disruption and the impacts of gillnet and trawl fisheries which unintentionally catch sawfish alongside target species.

Traditional Owner groups within the Gulf of Carpentaria region have observed a reduction in sawfish populations over the last 50 years and believe management actions may be needed to support population recovery. The Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (CLCAC) has identified sawfish population research as a priority. In response, this project will undertake this work within Southern Gulf waters.


The project will train and equip Indigenous Rangers to record sawfish captures, body measurements, and survival and release data. They will also take tissue samples to facilitate an understanding of the genetic relationships between individuals using a technique known as ‘close kin mark recapture’ (CKMR). This will complement equivalent data collection by commercial fishers who have been trained and supported by NESP Project 3.11.

The contributing Traditional Owner ranger groups are: Normanton, Gangaliida and Garawa (Burketown), Wellesley Islands, and Ngumari Waanyi (Gregory). These teams have established experience and capability including: 35 rangers, 6 with coxswain certification; 20 with boat licenses with AMSA exemptions (river) 10 vessels; and 13 four-wheel drive vehicles.

Training and participation in this project will enable the groups to undertake independent surveys in the future.

Expected outcomes

  • Knowledge of sawfish populations improved to inform regional planning.
  • Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (CLCAC) priority research undertaken.
  • Data on threatened sawfish obtained to support coastal and marine restoration management.
  • Pressures on sawfish populations better understood.
  • Indigenous Rangers independently monitoring Southern Gulf sawfish.

Project location