PONTE VEDRA, Fla. - A man in Florida is facing prison time and fines of up to $50,000 for sawing off the rostrum, or the snout-like protrusion, of a live endangered fish before throwing it back in the sea.
Chad Ponce, 38, appeared in court on Friday, where he pleaded guilty to killing an endangered smalltooth sawfish last year. The species — which is identified by a rostrum lined with sharp teeth resembling a saw — is said to be dependent on its protruding nose for swimming, direction and locating prey.
Ponce, from Jacksonville, had reeled in the sawfish on July 18, 2018, according to the United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida. He then used a power saw to remove the fish’s rostrum before letting it back into the waters near Ponte Vedra, Florida.
Ponce was aboard a shrimping vessel at the time, First Coast News reports. The incident was also filmed by another individual.
A witness reported the incident to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that month. Ponce was questioned, but initially claimed he returned the fish to the ocean unharmed.
Ponce now faces up to a year in prison and a fine of $50,000 for killing the endangered fish. His sentencing date has yet to be announced.
The smalltooth sawfish, which is actually a type of ray, has been listed as an endangered species since 2003; the NOAA said the species is actually the “first marine fish to receive federal protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in 2003.”
“Under the ESA, it is illegal to catch, harm, harass, or kill an endangered sawfish,” the NOAA added, noting an exception for any caught unintentionally while fishing for other species.