The feds are back sniffing around Everglades City, Fla., but not for the drug runners of yesteryear.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement on Thursday offered a reward up to $20,000 for information leading to the conviction or civil fine of those responsible for the death of six endangered smalltooth sawfish, found on a roadside in Florida’s remote southwest coast.

An Everglades National Park employee discovered the carcasses of the sawfish and two dead bonnethead sharks on a causeway linking Everglades City with Chokoloskee Island. Two of the sawfish were missing their rostra – their distinctive saw-shaped protuberance – while one other had its meat removed, leaving only the rack.

A sawfish biologist from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will perform a necropsy on the animals and try to determine the cause of death, according to NOAA officials.

The investigation is a faint echo of wilder times in the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands region, when some local fishermen – who had lost fishing territory and part of their livelihoods from being pushed out of the national park – turned to smuggling marijuana in the 1980s.

That epic period of “square grouper” – Florida slang for floating marijuana bales – ended with waves of arrests, convictions and prison sentences. Today Collier County again known as a center for the stone crab fishery.

Smalltooth sawfish are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, so killing them can bring substantial criminal and civil penalties. Once found in the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida, and along the East Coast up to North Carolina, they declined throughout that range in the 20th century. One remaining stronghold is far southwest Florida where sawfish give birth, reproducing every other year.

They give birth to seven to 14 young, and the discovery of a half-dozen dead sawfish “is nearly equivalent to one mother’s entire litter,” according to the NOAA statement.

NOAA officials say they “seek information from anyone who may have details about this incident and are offering a reward up to $20,000 for information leading to a criminal conviction or the assessment of a civil penalty.” They are soliciting information and anonymous tips to the NOAA enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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