Marcel Mochet  /  AFP - Getty Images
Sawfish were thrown a lifeline Monday in the form of a ban on international trade in the fish or its parts by the U.N. body that regulates wildlife commerce.
updated 6/11/2007 11:32:25 AM ET 2007-06-11T15:32:25

An international conference on endangered species banned almost all trade Monday in sawfish — large shark-like rays whose long snouts bristling with teeth are in high demand among collectors.

All seven species of sawfish are listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union due mainly to overfishing.

They are highly valued for their fins, meat and snouts known as rostra, which can measure up to 6 1/2 feet long. They also are caught and traded as live animals for aquaria and parts of their bodies are used in traditional Asian medicines.

Local Kenyan fishermen "could retire after catching one sawfish due to the high value of sawfish fins" — $200 a pound for export, said Dorothy Nyingi of Kenya told the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES. She said the rostra fetch up to $650 a pound.

Delegates at a committee meeting in The Hague supported a proposal to ban all commercial trade in six of the species and to allow sales of one sawfish species found in Australian waters. The decision is expected to be formally accepted by the full conference before it ends Friday.

Compounding the problem of hunting and trade, sawfish are slow to mature and produce few young. They also often are caught in nets intended for other fish, conservationists say.

"We are relieved that international trade pressure will be lifted for these critically endangered species," said Steven Broad, director of TRAFFIC, a group monitoring the trade in wildlife. "Trade, along with fishing pressure, was pushing them towards extinction."

CITES lists more than 7,000 animals and 32,000 plants whose trade is regulated, including about 800 highly threatened species that are banned from commercial trade without special licenses.

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