Man fined $2000 for killing endangered smalltooth sawfish

File photo: The smalltooth sawfish is a critically endangered species, and is the only sawfish species found in Florida waters. (FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A Florida commercial fisherman has been sentenced to 80 hours of community service and fined $2,000 for cutting the bill off an endangered smalltooth sawfish and then releasing it back into the Atlantic Ocean.

A St. Johns County judge sentenced Chad Ponce, 38, last month after he pleaded guilty to charges of killing an endangered species, according to a National Marine Fisheries Service news release this week. Ponce also faces two years of probation.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began investigating Ponce in July 2018 after receiving a tip about a roughly 13-foot (4-meter) smalltooth sawfish being caught in his commercial shrimp trawl nets off the coast of Ponte Vedra, Florida. Witnesses told officials that Ponce first attempted to use a hacksaw on the animal's bill, known as a rostrum, but was unsuccessful. He then used a power saw to cut the rostrum off the live fish.

Sawfish primarily use their rostrum for sensing and hunting prey, according to wildlife officials. Not having a rostrum generally results in starvation.

The smalltooth sawfish is one of five sawfish species worldwide and the only one still found in U.S. waters.