Smaller sharks have sweet and delicious flesh, and are popular for their boneless and thick flakes. They have been commonly used for the traditional “fish and chips” but should not be overlooked for barbecuing, poaching, braising and baking.
Marinate first in oil and lemon to tenderise the flesh and remove the skin before cooking, particularly when barbecuing, to prevent it shrinking and tearing the flesh.
Scientific name: Pristiophorus cirratus, P. nudipinnis, P. peroniensis
- P. cirratus: Common sawshark, longnose sawshark, little sawshark
- P. nudipinnis: Southern sawshark, shortnose sawshark
- P. peroniensis: Eastern sawshark*
Description: Sawsharks are relatively small sharks characterised by a long tapering rostrum (snout) with numerous sharp teeth along its margins. Paired elongated barbels (feelers) originate from the ventral side of the rostrum. The common and eastern sawsharks have 19‑25 teeth on each side of the rostrum, with the barbels being positioned slightly closer to the tip of the snout. Southern sawsharks have 17‑19 teeth on each side of the rostrum, with the barbels being positioned slightly closer to the head. Sawsharks have two dorsal fins that are almost identical in size and no anal fin. The body is slightly dorso-ventrally compressed.
- Common: the upper body is pale yellow to greyish brown with dark blotches and spots, and the lower body is white.
- Southern: the upper body is uniformly slate grey with no markings, and the lower body is white.
- Eastern: the upper body is greyish brown with no markings, and the lower body is white.
Size (length and weight): Up to 1.5 metres in length and 4.3 kg depending on species. Females grow slightly larger than males. Common sawsharks are generally slightly larger than southern sawsharks.
Life span: Up to 9 years for southern sawsharks and 15 years for common sawsharks.
Habitat: Sawsharks are a common demersal species that inhabits the continental shelf and upper slope. They can be found in depths to 300 metres. Sawsharks are sometimes found in large schools or feeding aggregations. Some species segregate according to age, with adults being found in deeper water than juveniles.
- Common: in depths of 40‑310 metres
- Southern: in depths of 40‑165 metres
- Eastern: in depths of 100‑630 metres.
Prey: Small fish, molluscs and crustaceans.
Predators: Larger sharks.
Reproduction: Sawsharks reach reproductive maturity at about 2 years of age. Sawsharks are aplacental viviporous (bear live young). Young are born during winter in shallow coastal areas after a 12 month gestation period. Common and southern sawsharks produce about 5‑20 pups per litter and probably breed only every second year. The rostral teeth emerge before birth, but lie flat against the snout of the foetus until after birth.
Other: Sawsharks have poor eyesight and use their barbels and ampullae (electroreceptors) on the rostrum to detect prey on the ocean floor. They immobilize their prey by hitting it with a side-swipe of their rostrum.
*Prior to its description in 2008, P. peroniensis (eastern sawshark) was known as Pristiophorus sp. A. However, pending further research it is now tentatively considered a synonym of P. cirratus (common sawshark), differing only in coloration.
|Fishery found in||Gear used||Catch of species is targeted or incidental|
|Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery – Gillnet Hook and Trap Sector||Gillnet, longline||Incidental|
|Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery – Commonwealth Trawl Sector||Bottom trawl||Incidental|
|State managed fisheries – Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia||Bottom trawl, gillnet, longline||Incidental|
Management of catch
Nothing is known about stock structure of these species. The suspicion is that they do not move long distances, so that management and assessment would ideally recognise some degree of regional stock structure.
For assessment purposes, all sawsharks south of the Victoria–NSW border are assumed to be common sawshark and southern sawshark, whereas those north of this border are assumed to be eastern sawshark.
The Commonwealth catch of sawsharks is managed by quota, meaning that the catch of this fish by commercial fishers is restricted by weight.
Commercial fishermen are required to fill in records of their catches, during each fishing trip and when they land their catch in a port. This helps us keep records of how much is being caught.
AFMA decide on the amount that can be caught each year from expert advice and recommendations from fisheries managers, industry members, scientist and researchers.
Three species of sawsharks occur off southern Australia, but their distributions have not been described precisely.
Common sawshark (Pristiophorus cirratus) is reported to range from Jurien Bay in WA to Eden in NSW, including Tasmania.
Southern sawshark (P. nudipinnis) is reported to range from the western region of the Great Australian Bight to eastern Gippsland in Victoria, including Tasmania.
Eastern sawshark (P. peroniensis) is reported to range from approximately Lakes Entrance in Victoria to Coffs Harbour in NSW.
Fishing gear and environmental impacts
Sawsharks are caught using gillnets, longlines and trawls.
In managing our fisheries we consider the impact that catching each species has on the environment through our Ecological Risk Assessment process. We work with the Department of the Environment to ensure that our fisheries meet strict environmental guidelines.