Biologists worry over increased turtle harvest

March 26, 2009 By MARCO SANTANA , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Surging demand for turtle meat in southeast Asia has prompted a huge jump in turtle harvesting, leading to concerns that populations of the reptiles could suffer permanent damage.

Freshwater 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.

In Arkansas, an average of 196,460 aquatic a year were harvested from 2004 to 2006, according to the state Fish and Game Commission.

Texas banned the commercial collection of all wild turtles in 2007. Florida regulators are to consider a ban April 15 at the urging of Gov. Charlie Crist, who said in November that continued commercial harvesting "could result in long term impacts very quickly."

Calling the commercial turtle harvest "unsustainable," the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity earlier this month asked officials in eight Midwestern and southern states to ban the practice.

The Arizona organization worked with 24 other conservation and public health groups to send petitions to the eight states, raising questions about the safety of eating turtle meat and calling attention to the number of turtles being harvested.

"People in states where there's either no regulation or lax regulations are literally strip mining streams," said Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the center. "We're going to see some pretty catastrophic results in terms of the number of turtles being taken. It's way beyond anything that's sustainable."

The emergency petitions were sent to officials in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have 60 days to respond to the center's petition, whether they choose to pursue a ban or not. Officials must let the center know the agency's intentions and can also ask for clarification of the center's data.

Officials with Iowa's Department of Natural Resources said they're concerned about overharvesting but are uneasy about seeking limits until they have a better handle on the turtle population. They said passage of a measure pending in the Legislature that would require commercial buyers and harvesters to report sales information will help them understand what's happening to reptile numbers.

Martin Konrad, an executive officer in the Department of Natural Resources' fishing bureau, said the bill also would make it harder for harvesters to underreport their yields.

"There is a level of concern within our department on the harvest of turtles," Konrad said. "But we don't have defensible data available to tell us that the turtle populations are declining and they are in need of greater protection than what we provide now."

Janzen said he worries that once turtle populations are depleted, it could take decades for a recovery to take hold even if harvests were sharply limited.


On the Net:

Center for Biological Diversity:

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Turtles alter nesting dates due to temperature change

Related Stories

Turtles focus of British seaside alert

February 10, 2008

People who find a turtle washed ashore on British or Irish ocean beaches are being asked to report it to help the endangered reptiles.

Recommended for you

Genome study offers clues about history of big cats

July 21, 2017

(—A large international team of researchers has conducted a genetic analysis and comparison of the world's biggest cats to learn more about their history. In their paper published on the open source site Science ...

Researchers discover mice speak similarly to humans

July 21, 2017

Grasshopper mice (genus Onychomys), rodents known for their remarkably loud call, produce audible vocalizations in the same way that humans speak and wolves howl, according to new research published in Proceedings of the ...

Good fighters are bad runners

July 21, 2017

For mice and men, a strength in one area of Darwinian fitness may mean a deficiency in another. A look at Olympic athletes shows that a wrestler is built much differently than a marathoner. It's long been supposed that strength ...

Researchers discover biological hydraulic system in tuna fins

July 20, 2017

Cutting through the ocean like a jet through the sky, giant bluefin tuna are built for performance, endurance and speed. Just as the fastest planes have carefully positioned wings and tail flaps to ensure precision maneuverability ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.