Ban Sought on Unlimited Wild Turtle Trapping in Ohio

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Commercial Traders Now Sell as Many Turtles as They Can Catch

COLUMBUS, Ohio— The Center for Biological Diversity and several Ohio-based conservation organizations petitioned the Ohio Department of Natural Resources today to end unchecked commercial collection of the state’s wild turtles. Turtle traders can now legally collect unlimited numbers of common snapping and softshell turtles to process and sell domestically or export for Asian food and medicinal markets.  

“For-profit turtle traders should not be allowed to put the state’s turtles at risk,” said Collette Adkins, a Center biologist and senior attorney who authored the petition. “Ohio desperately needs limits on the number of snapping and softshell turtles trappers can take from the wild. Selling so many turtles for meat is bad for the turtles, of course, but also for all of us who care about the health of the state’s waterways and wetlands.”

Under current regulations in Ohio, anyone with an annual fishing license may trap and sell unlimited numbers of common snappers, spiny softshells and smooth softshells. Although Ohio law prohibits live export of turtles, traders can sell live turtles within the state or process the animals to sell across state lines or overseas for meat and medicinal markets. Also, because turtles bioaccumulate toxins from prey and burrow in contaminated sediment, turtle meat is often laced with mercury, PCBs and pesticides, posing a health risk. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.

Commercial trapping is devastating to turtle populations that are already suffering from multiple other threats, including habitat loss, water pollution and vehicular collisions,” said Dr. Lisa Regula Meyer, a visiting assistant professor of biology at the University of Akron. “All of our neighboring states ban or limit for-profit turtle trapping, and Ohio should too. This simple step could vastly improve turtle conservation efforts in the state, with little cost to Ohio and its citizens.”

Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without population declines. In a 2014 study, researchers found that, looking at mean demographic rates, no harvest could be sustained for softshells, and common snappers could withstand only minimum rates of juvenile harvest and no adult harvest.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio River Foundation, Ohio Wetlands Association, Kent Environmental Council, Friends of the Ravines and Dr. Regula Meyer submitted today’s petition. 

Background

As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity has been petitioning states that allow commercial turtle collection to improve regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters. Then, in 2012, Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles, and Alabama completely banned commercial collection. This past July, Iowa published proposed rules that, if finalized, would impose seasons, daily bag limits and possession limits for common snapping turtles, painted turtles, spiny softshells and smooth softshells. And in October the Missouri Department of Conservation announced — in response to a Center petition —that it will consider ending unlimited commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles.

Also this year, in response to a 2011 Center petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May added four turtles — including common snapping turtles, smooth softshell turtles and spiny softshell turtles that are targeted in Ohio — to a list called “CITES Appendix III.” Trade in Appendix III species requires an export permit and documentation that the animal was caught or acquired in compliance with the law, allowing the United States to monitor trade closely. The animals must also be shipped using methods designed to prevent cruel treatment. 

None of the states that share a border with Ohio allow unlimited commercial collection of turtles. Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia prohibit all commercial collection of turtles, and Pennsylvania enforces strict bag limits.    

Common snapping turtle photo by Dakota L. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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