Florida Turtles Protected from Asian Appetites
Following through on a decision made in April, Florida wildlife officials on Wednesday voted to prohibit the commercial harvest of freshwater turtles in the wild.
By a unanimous vote, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a rule to protect turtles and halt increasing shipments of turtles to Asia for food. The agency enacted a temporary rule last fall and began work on the proposed rule after Gov. Charlie Crist sent a letter urging speedy action.
Commissioners said the vote puts Florida at the forefront of conservation efforts in the United States to protect turtles from a booming international demand for their meat and provide incentives to rely more on turtle farming to satisfy the demand.
"This is a legacy vote," said Brian Yablonski, FWC commissioner. "This decision may be one of Florida's greatest conservation stories."
Florida is home to more than two dozen freshwater species, making it one of the two largest centers of diversity of turtles in the world. By its vote, the commission ended commercial harvesting of the shelled delicacy by restricting individual bag limits to a turtle a day. Collecting of eggs is also prohibited.
“This is a wise, forward-thinking move to protect Florida’s turtles from mass commercial hunting,” said turtle expert Dr. Matthew Aresco, who directs Nokuse Plantation, a private wildlife refuge in the Florida Panhandle. “We thank Gov. Charlie Crist for his leadership and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their stewardship.”
From 2000 to 2005, turtles shipped from the United States increased dramatically. Exports of common snapping turtles were up 1,200 percent while the shipment of softshell turtles climbed by 270 percent.
Some turtle collectors and operators of commercial turtle farms have argued the measure is too restrictive and could put them out of business.
Agency officials said the rule, which they called the most restrictive in the nation, was intended to encourage turtle farming to replace the harvesting of turtles in the wild. Wednesday’s vote contains provisions that will allow turtle harvesters to obtain wild turtles for breeding purposes.
“I believe this industry should be moved to aquaculture,” said Rodney Barreto, FWC chairman. “That's the logical place for it to be."
Many of the freshwater turtles that are being taken in Florida are not classified as threatened or endangered. Scientists said little is known about their populations because those species are difficult to monitor.