A Florida man accused of removing an appendage from an endangered species may now be going to federal prison for it. CNN reports that Jacksonville's Chad Ponce, 38, could face a year behind bars and have to pay a $50,000 fine after witnesses say they saw him kill a smalltooth sawfish, one of just five sawfish species worldwide, and the only one located in the US, per the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A Justice Department release says Ponce was seen in July 2018 on his fishing boat off the coast of Ponte Vedra with a 12-foot specimen, using a power saw to take off the creature's rostrum, a nose extension with teeth that looks like a saw and that the fish uses to orient itself in the water and to locate and disable prey. The sawfish can't survive without it.
For more than 15 years, the smalltooth sawfish—which can cause major damage with its rostrum, though it generally doesn't go after humans—has been protected by the Endangered Species Act, meaning not only can't it be hurt or killed, it also can't be caught on fishing expeditions. If it's scooped up by accident, fishermen have strict guidelines on how to handle it. The species used to proliferate around the globe, but now it's limited to swimming in southeastern US waters, mostly off the coast of Florida. Once Ponce was reported, his case was investigated by the commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He has pleaded guilty to killing an endangered species. First Coast News reports he'll be sentenced on Dec. 19. (Read more endangered species stories.)