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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 1, 2019

Jacksonville Man Pleads Guilty To Killing A Sawfish

Jacksonville, Florida – Chad Ponce (38, Jacksonville) today pleaded guilty to killing an endangered species. Ponce faces a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison and a $50,000 fine. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

Sawfishes are a family of rays characterized by a long, narrow, flattened rostrum, or nose extension, lined with sharp teeth, arranged in a way that resembles a saw. They are among the largest fish, with some species reaching lengths of up to 17 feet. The fish are found in meaningful numbers only in the southeastern United States, primarily the southwest coast of Florida (smalltooth), and in Australia (largetooth). At one time, both species were found worldwide, throughout tropical and subtropical regions in coastal marine and estuarial waters, as well as freshwater rivers and lakes. In Florida, the smalltooth sawfish is dependent on estuarial mangrove waters on the southern and southwest borders of the state. It is there that they breed and give birth. The sawfish has been recognized as an endangered species since May 1, 2003. 

Sawfish are generally harmless to humans, although they can inflict serious injury with their saws if threatened. The rostrum of the sawfish is used by the animal to locate and disable its prey, and is believed to carry sensory cells that assist it in orienting itself to time and location. The smalltooth sawfish cannot survive without its rostrum. On July 18, 2018, Ponce was seen removing the rostrum from a live 12-foot smalltooth sawfish with a power saw aboard his fishing vessel off the coast of Ponte Vedra, Florida. 

This case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Florida Wildlife Commission. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jay Taylor.

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Updated November 1, 2019