Thursday, March 26, 2009

Turtle Mining

Who knew?
Freshwater turtle populations have plunged in Asia, where the meat is a delicacy, leading to increased trapping in U.S. ponds and streams, said Fred Janzen, an Iowa State University professor who studies ecology.

In Iowa, harvests have increased from 29,000 pounds in 1987 to 235,000 pounds in 2007. And during that period the number of licensed harvesters more than quadrupled to 175 people.
Turtles? In Iowa?

Yep. Lots of 'em. It's not only food-use that threatens chelonians. It's also over-building and the destruction of wetlands.

But if Iowa turtles are threatened by over-development and Asian appetites, can you imagine how endangered turtles must be in Florida?

Actually, you don't have to imagine it:
In Chinese communities, turtles are in demand for their meat, which is not just eaten for sustenance, but is thought to enhance "longevity and prowess." The turtles are also used to make tonics for cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Freshwater turtles are in high demand for both food and medicine, and according to Matt Aresco, a Florida biologist, the demand is "insatiable." Common turtles, such as Florida softshells, have not been protected historically.
Until last Fall, the Sierra Club explains, Florida has had no limits on fishing for freshwater turtles. In September, the FWC adopted an emergency "temporary bag limit for licensed harvesters of 20 freshwater turtles a day an incredible 7,300 turtles a year, for each harvester."

Now, Save-the-Turtles Foundation reports, there is pending a new staff proposal that comes before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 15:
The commercial harvest of freshwater turtles is a significant and growing conservation threat in Florida and has received considerable attention by turtle scientists, conservationists, and the general public over the past year. In addition, the discovery of several large piles of freshwater turtle shells documents that localized harvest of significant numbers for personal use continues in the Florida panhandle and peninsula.
According to the FWC --
The draft rule would ban the commercial take or sale of wild freshwater turtles. The draft rule also would prohibit taking turtles from the wild that are listed on Florida's imperiled species list, as well as species that look similar to the imperiled species, which include common snapping turtles and cooters. 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.
Concerned citizens are invited to submit comments on the proposal directly to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by emailing Or, telephone, write or email Save the Turtles.

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