Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bans freshwater turtle harvesting

A new rule banning the harvesting of freshwater turtles in Florida is designed to protect softshell species like this one.


A new rule banning the harvesting of freshwater turtles in Florida is designed to protect softshell species like this one.

The state's wildlife agency voted unanimously Wednesday to ban the harvest of freshwater turtles throughout Florida, setting the stage for imposing the strongest such ban in the nation.

The harvesting ban will not take effect until after the agency votes on the final version of the new rule in June.

The decision comes after Gov. Charlie Crist, biologists and herpetology fans urged the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to end the harvest over fears that the state's turtles were being wiped out.

About 50 people are involved in catching freshwater turtles around the state, according to the wildlife agency. The fishermen contended there are so many turtles, their reptile roundups are having no effect whatsoever.

According to the wildlife commission's staff, fish markets estimate that they buy a maximum of 560,000 pounds of turtles from fishermen, mostly softshell turtles, a year. These fishermen are paid between 75 cents to $1.40 per pound for the turtles.

But it's a lucrative business for the exporters, who, according to the wildlife agency staff, could rake in a net profit ranging from $30,000 to $60,000 by shipping their cargo overseas.

"The foreign market for freshwater turtles appears to be insatiable," a wildlife commission staff report said. "Recent decline of China's softshell turtle populations has been attributed to overharvesting for the burgeoning markets for turtles for food and traditional medicine.

"This unpredictable and potentially eruptive foreign market could place much greater harvest pressure on Florida's turtles in relatively short time frames."

Turtle biologists such as Matt Aresco first raised warnings about what was happening.

"All the scientists who study Florida's turtles are unanimous: we believe that the mass commercial hunting of wild turtles must end," Aresco said in response to Wednesday's wildlife commission decision.

Their complaints led to a series of public hearings that drew scores of people. They also prompted a letter from Crist urging the agency to "move toward a complete ban on the harvesting of our wild turtles," or "we could be in grave danger of irreparable damage to our turtle population."

About 100 people showed up at a public hearing in Tampa last fall to debate the proposed ban, including fishermen like William Shockley, who contended there was no evidence of any decline in the turtle population.

"Have you got any data on the Florida softshell turtle?" Shockley, a third-generation Okeechobee fisherman, asked the crowd. "Anything? Anything to indicate there's even a slight decrease in the Florida softshell turtle?"

And fisherman Levi Miller warned the crowd that banning turtle harvesting would hurt the economy.

"You're fixing to help people lose their house," he said.

About 25 people spoke at the wildlife commission meeting in Tallahassee, some of them biologists and animal welfare activists who supported the ban, some of them turtle harvesters and turtle farmers who opposed it, according to agency spokeswoman Patricia Behnke.

The draft rule would ban the commercial take or sale of wild freshwater turtles, and would also prohibit taking turtles from the wild that are listed on Florida's imperiled species list. In addition, the collection of eggs would be prohibited.

Individuals would be allowed to take one freshwater turtle per day per person from the wild for noncommercial use. The transport of more than one turtle per day would be prohibited.

Some turtle farms depend on the collection of wild freshwater turtles. Under the proposed draft rule, turtle farms, under a tightly controlled process, would be allowed to collect turtles for breeding purposes for a two-year period.

Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8530.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bans freshwater turtle harvesting 04/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

  2. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.
  3. Study: Pollution kills 9 million a year, costs $4.6 trillion


    NEW DELHI — Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

    New Delhi’s landmark India Gate, a war memorial, is engulfed in morning smog on Friday.
  4. Quarterback Jameis Winston will start Sunday for the Bucs


    TAMPA — Jameis Winston hadn't thrown in practice since he injured his right shoulder in Sunday's loss at Arizona, and with that uncertainty, a wide line of TV cameras and reporters' cellphones were all out Friday morning, recording the moment as Winston tested his shoulder with his first throws early in …

    Despite a sore shoulder, Jameis Winston will be making his 38th consecutive start since being drafted first overall in 2015.
  5. Paul Rodgers replacing ZZ Top on Ribfest 2017 lineup


    In looking to replace the ailing ZZ Top, Ribfest found some good company in Bad Company.

    Paul Rodgers