Once again, Florida is selling a precious resource, one that makes the state unique. This time it's the wild freshwater turtle. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that each week thousands of pounds of softshell turtles are shipped to Asian countries where they are eaten and used for folk remedies. The wholesale decimation of this natural resource should be stopped.
"Asian countries are causing the extinction, the near extinction or the endangerment of every species of turtle they have over there, so now they're turning to the United States to supply their insatiable demand for turtle," Matt Aresco, a Florida biologist, told the St. Petersburg Times.
Florida is the commercial hunter's place of choice. Unlike other turtle-rich states, such as Alabama, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Florida hasn't restricted or banned the harvest of wild turtles. Last March, 34 of the nation's top scientists wrote to state officials urging them to ban harvesting. Two Florida-based environmental organizations and individual biologists also petitioned the wildlife commission for a ban or tight restrictions.
After harvesters protested, the commissioners caved and voted to allow ordinary people to take 35 turtles from the wild each week, or 1,820 per year. Each licensed commercial hunter can take 140 softshell turtles from the wild each week, or 7,300 each year. No limit was placed on the number of commercial harvesters, meaning that no one knows how many harvesters are taking turtles or how many turtles are being shipped annually. Biologists and environmentalists correctly called this an irresponsible move that is not based on science.
Commission biologist Bill Turner said the limits were implemented on an interim basis and that over the next year the staff will seek a compromise between the two sides. Biologists argue the current rate of harvesting must be stopped immediately.
The commission failed to effectively stop the slaughter of this precious natural resource. Gov. Charlie Crist should ask them to revisit the issue and ban or sharply limit the harvesting of wild turtles.