A Florida man could get up to one year in federal prison plus $50,000 fine after witnesses said they saw him kill an endangered smalltooth sawfish by removing the long, flat saw that gives the fish its name.
Chad Ponce pleaded guilty Friday to killing an endangered species, according to a news release from the US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. Prosecutors said he was seen on a boat off Ponte Vedra in 2018 using a power saw to remove the fish’s rostrum — a long, narrow tooth-lined extension of its head that resembles a saw.
Smalltooth sawfish use that saw to sense and attack prey. Without it, they can’t survive.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been steady decline in recent years in the number of sawfish in the ocean.
Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said there may be as many as 5,000 or as few as 500 adult species left in the world.
Smalltooth sawfish are typically found in shallow, coastal waters, the NOAA says on its website, and in the United States they are found only off the Florida coast. Though the fish are generally harmless to people, they can do some serious damage with their saws if threatened, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
According to CNN, the smalltooth sawfish has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2003, making it illegal to catch, harm, harass or kill the fish. Fisherman sometimes catch sawfish accidentally while they’re fishing for other species, NOAA stated, but there are guidelines on how to respond when that happens.
NOAA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigated Ponce’s case, the US attorney’s office said. As of Friday’s announcement, a sentencing date had not yet been set.