Using fishers’ ecological knowledge to assess the status and cultural importance of sawfish in Guinea-Bissau



  1. Sawfishes have declined dramatically in West Africa and may be extinct throughout much of their historical range. Guinea-Bissau is considered to be one of the last remaining places in West Africa where sawfish persist.
  2. Fishers’ ecological knowledge (FEK) can provide valuable baseline data, which can be used to direct scientific studies, in situations where information is scarce or lacking and can also provide insight into local attitudes towards species of interest. Interview surveys were used to collect FEK data on the past and current range of sawfishes within Guinea-Bissau waters, perceived causes of the decline amongst fishermen, and the cultural importance of this species to Bissau-Guineans.
  3. Data were collected from 274 respondents, of whom 85% could identify a sawfish from an image. The majority of respondents reported to have last seen a sawfish in the 1980s, although this varied considerably by region, and 30% of respondents in the south had seen or captured sawfishes in the past decade up to and including 2012.
  4. Overfishing or excessive fishing pressure was most frequently cited as a perceived cause for the decline in sawfish, followed by shark finning and overseas fishermen. The sawfish is primarily of cultural importance in the Bijagos Islands, where it is central to many traditional ceremonies.
  5. This information provides valuable insight into the cultural importance of sawfish to Bissau-Guineans and their concerns in relation to the sustainability of their local fishery resources. Information on recent catches will be useful for directing future work to locate and protect remaining sawfish in Guinea-Bissau.

Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.