Resource: Sawfish Releasing Visual Guidebooks


Sawfish releasing guidebook for Cox’s Bazar type boats and trawlers in Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh. This illustrated guidebook is based on local knowledge and the traditional practice of fishers.

We are disseminating a visual guidebook among artisanal and commercial fishers in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh to help them in releasing sawfish. The guidebook has been developed based on local knowledge of the veteran fishers coupled with best practices from around the world.

This virtual guidebook will be helpful to train young artisanal fishers and newly recruited trawl crews to successfully release the accidentally caught sawfish in the Bay of Bengal.

Separate guidebooks for Gillnetter and Trawler

Two different versions are available, one is for fishers using gillnets or longlines onboard traditional gillnetter boats, and another one is for captains and crews of industrial trawl vessels.

In Bangladesh’s water, artisanal and small-scale commercial fishing is limited to the use of traditional wooden boats; using mostly varieties of gillnets, set-bag nets, and lines and hooks. The Fisheries Department estimate that there are at least 67000 boats in operation. On the other hand, all 256 trawlers are engaged in industrial or large-scale commercial fishing operations.

“During the development of this guidebook, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of talented people–artists, communication expert, audio-video editor, biologists, linguist, and software engineers. Their artistic input, commitment, criticism, and suggestions have transformed this guidebook. The guidebook not only presents months of work behind the desk but also what we learned during our hours of interviews and discussion with fishers from Cox’s Bazar, Chattogram, Lakshmipur, Ramgati, Hatia, etc. Talking with these fishers provided us valuable insights on the feasibility of reporting and releasing sawfish from anglers, gillnetters, and trawlers. Their enthusiasm and commitment to report and release a sawfish have made me hopeful. After meeting and talking to them, I strongly believe that fishers can be the stewards of sawfish in the Bay of Bengal.”

Mahatub Khan Badhon, Project Co-Principal Investigator.

For marine artisanal and small-scale commercial fishing, the widely used boat has been developed as a purpose-built small wooden gillnetter (Cox’s Bazar Type Boat); of which Bangladesh has seen a few modified design varieties over the last two decades. The S-bottomed vessel is a wet-fish boat with a high sheer bow, narrow deck, and wider stern, which gives it more stability in the rough coastal seas.

All wet-fish and freezer trawlers operating in Bangladesh water are based in Chittagong Fish Harbor. There are still few wooden trawlers that are purpose-built for only bottom-trawling. Rest is much bigger hi-tech vessels equipped with modern navigation and fish-finding technopolis. Almost all types of trawl nets and technology are used in Bangladesh; mostly stern and side trawls. These modern vessels are capable of operating both the bottom and mid-water trawls.

Because of such a huge difference, in vessel design and fishing technology, we have developed two versions of the guidebook customized for Cox’s Bazar Type Boat (gillnetters and long-liner) and Trawlers.

Visual communication and ‘soft’ dissemination

As almost all of the artisanal and most of the industrial fishers can communicate better in oral and visual forms, we are prioritizing the dissemination of illustrations and videos based on the guidebook rather than the hard copies of the book. We are distributing the printed copies among the fishers who can read.

And, as many fishers now use smartphones and feature phones, and have access to local cable-tv stations, we are prioritizing the videos and visual parts of the guidebook. It should be noted that, during this difficult time of the Coronavirus pandemic, all field activities are postponed out of the abundance of caution.

A multi-disciplinary effort based on local knowledge

Artisanal fishers in the Bay of Bengal used to release all unwanted catch including marine megafauna (e.g. Sawfish). But in recent years, the global trade of Bangladesh’s marine fisheries is expanding, and the market is demanding all types of new products, so small-scale commercial and industrial fishers are under huge pressure from the owners to land everything they caught. 

”I can do paintings, in a very amateur way of course, and I wanted to help the fishers, that’s the only reason I contributed to the Sawfish Releasing Guide and videos. Again, at best, these are just amateur works; but this is the best I can. Another thing I want to share is, I did a lot of portraits of other Elasmobranch species that will be gradually published. And, I did all these amidst a very busy work schedule, my day-job as a zoology teacher, my full-time job as the mom to my 6 years old, and then in between all the field trips and moving between cities. But what was more rewarding is to see my 6 years old sitting beside me during this work, and asking why I’m drawing ‘fish’ and not ‘princes’, and then she started to paint fishes. I did all these portraits on my dining table, and she sat with me. I grew my interest in art in my teenage years, as a painting student at the local Shilpakala, but it’s good to see my kid doing this at this early age. So, in addition to helping the fishermen, this whole thing is going to be personally helpful for me. And when it comes to Sawfish or shark conservation I believe, the fishers are more comfortable to connect visually than in text-based communication”

Fahmida Khalique Nitu, Conservation Biologist and Amateur Artist

Still, there are elderly fishers who once acted on their values about taking care of marine wildlife; we extensively interviewed senior fishing crews with years of such experiences and described those ecologically good practices in the guidebook. 

We’ve also taken help from experience of successful release elsewhere in the world who have similar fishing practices and gears, Australia, and the Southern US for instance.

The development of the guidebook required people from multiple disciplines to conceptualize, draw, write design, and finally produce.


Best Practices to Release Sawfish from Nets and Hooks into the Sea
জাল-বড়শি থেকে সাগরে করাত মাছ ছাড়ার আদব কায়দা

Click here to download the Guidebook for Cox’s Bazar Type Boat

Click here to download the Guidebook for Trawlers

Texts: Md Kutub Uddin, Mahatub Khan Badhon, and Sabrina Sabbir

Cover and Design: Bazlur Rashid Shawan

Illustrations: Fahmida Khalique Nitu, Hrifat Mollik and Anika Tabassum

Published from ‘Investigating the Past and Present of Sawfish in Bangladesh‘ project with support from Shark Conservation Fund and partially supported by a grant from National Geographic Society. 

Project Co-PIs are Dr. Kazi Ahsan Habib (Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University) and Mahatub Khan Badhon (University of Dhaka).

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