Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Crist urges a ban on softshell turtle harvesting

TAMPA — Nearly 100 people turned out Thursday to debate whether to ban the capture of Florida softshell turtles for export to China. But the loudest voice belonged to someone who wasn't there: Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist sent a letter to the head of the state wildlife commission urging the agency to "move toward a complete ban on the harvesting of our wild turtles."

"According to many of the turtle biologists, if the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is not vigilant and does not act swiftly, we could be in grave danger of irreparable damage to our turtle population," Crist said.

The governor's opinion was unknown to the nearly 100 attendees at the wildlife commission meeting, which was called in light of the weekly exporting of thousands of wild softshells to China, where people consume the animals for food and medicine. Biologists fear the softshells are being overfished, while fisherman say they are barely making an impact on the species.

By the end of Thursday's meeting, there was one sure conclusion:

No one can prove either side since the state has no scientific data on the softshell population.

With the country in recession and state legislators threatening budget cuts, a study is unlikely, state officials acknowledged, especially considering the species isn't threatened.

All the wildlife commission could do was collect perspectives at the hearing from the likes of turtle fishermen, a turtle exporter, biologists and taxpayers such as Marcus Milnes, a Clearwater chiropractor, who came because he wants to ban turtle hunting.

The wildlife commission estimates exporters are shipping up to 3,000 pounds of softshell turtles a week out of Tampa International Airport. For years, the state had no limits on taking softshell turtles, which biologists say can grow as large as 100 pounds.

In September, as wildlife officers reported seeing fishermen with truck beds full of turtles, officials imposed limit of five softshells per person per day except for licensed commercial fishermen, who can trap 20.

Now Crist wants a ban.

• • •

Of the wildlife commission's seven board members, Crist appointed or reappointed six.

"The people of Florida want the very best for our natural resources, and I am sure that you will meet their expectations as you deliberate this issue over the next several months," Crist told commission chairman Rodney Barreto, whom he reappointed.

Fishermen said Thursday they're already feeling effects of restrictions. Sean Lee, who hunts turtles full time, made as much as $3,000 a week before expenses until the current limits cut his income by two-thirds. He said he could drive 10 minutes from downtown and find a turtle, which he said are thriving.

"We're going into a depression. You know what you're fixing to do?" fisherman Levi Miller, 50, told opponents. "You're fixing to help people lose their house."

Turtle fishermen earn $1 to $1.50 per pound. They use hooks baited with chicken, pork fat and bacon to capture the turtles for exporters who airfreight the animals live. "Have you got any data on the Florida softshell turtle?" William Shockley, a third-generation Okeechobee fisherman, asked the crowd. "Anything? Anything to indicate there's even a slight decrease in the Florida softshell turtle?"

Eckerd College biologist Peter Meylan, who studies the softshell turtle, used the same argument to support a ban.

Erring on the safe side for an important native species makes more sense than protecting the livelihood of no more than 300 fisherman who hunt turtles.

"The simple solution, the cost-effective solution, the easily enforceable solution is, let's bring this thing to a close," he said.

Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or

Crist urges a ban on softshell turtle harvesting 11/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008 8:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Reporter says Republican candidate in Montana body-slammed him (w/video)


    HELENA, Mont. — Witnesses said the Republican candidate for Montana's sole congressional seat body-slammed a reporter Wednesday, the day before the polls close in the nationally watched special election.

    Greg Gianforte, right, receives congratulations from a supporter in Helena, Mont., in March. [Associated Press]
  2. Culpepper falls just short on 'Survivor' finale

    Human Interest

    In the end, Tampa lawyer Brad Culpepper fell just short, and the ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer lost Survivor: Game Changers and the $1 million prize to Sarah Lacina, a police officer from Iowa.

  3. Families dispute claims that slain Tampa Palms roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs


    TAMPA — Andrew Oneschuk never liked making small talk on the phone, his father said, but the last time the two spoke, something seemed off.

    Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman lived in a Tampa Palms apartment with Devon Arthurs and Brandon Russell. Oneschuk and Himmelman reportedly planned to move out.
  4. Brad Culpepper makes it to final 3 on Survivor, but jury picks Sarah

    The Feed

    UPDATE, WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Tampa's Brad Culpepper make it to the final 3 on Survivor, but jurors chose Sarah as the winner of the $1 million.

    Original report follows:

    "The Tables Have Turned" - Brad Culpepper, Tai Trang and Hali Ford on the fourth episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS Entertainment
  5. Steven Souza Jr. snaps out of slump as Rays defeat Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — After Tuesday's shutout loss to the Angels, Steven Souza Jr. stood in front of his locker and talked about his need to contribute to the offense.

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (45) hugs right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout after his two run home run in the second inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.