For Immediate Release
Thousands in Ohio Ask State to Ban Unlimited Wild Turtle Trapping
Commercial Traders Now Sell as Many Turtles as They Can Catch
COLUMBUS, OHIO - As of today, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club Ohio have sent more than 3,800 letters asking the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to end unchecked commercial collection of the state’s wild turtles.
Turtle traders in Ohio can now legally collect unlimited numbers of common snapping and softshell turtles to process and sell domestically or export for Asian food and medicinal markets. The letters support a petition seeking a ban on for-profit turtle trading filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several Ohio-based conservation organizations in January.
The state agency has not yet responded to the letters or petition.
“For-profit turtle traders should not be allowed to put the state’s turtles at risk,” said Collette Adkins, a Center biologist and senior attorney who authored the January petition. “Ohio desperately needs limits on the number of snapping and softshell turtles trappers can take from the wild. Selling so many turtles for meat is bad for the turtles, of course, but also for all of us who care about the health of the state’s waterways and wetlands.”
Under current regulations in Ohio, anyone with an annual fishing license may trap and sell unlimited numbers of common snappers, spiny softshells and smooth softshells. Although Ohio law prohibits live export of turtles, traders can sell live turtles within the state or process the animals to sell across state lines or overseas for meat and medicinal markets. Also, because turtles bioaccumulate toxins from prey and burrow in contaminated sediment, turtle meat is often laced with mercury, PCBs and pesticides, posing a health risk. Adult turtles are also taken from the wild to breed hatchlings for the international pet trade.
“All of our neighboring states ban or limit for-profit turtle trapping, and Ohio should too,” said Aaron Acus-Souders, a clean water advocate from the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club.
None of the states that share a border with Ohio allow unlimited commercial collection of turtles. Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia prohibit all commercial collection of turtles, and Pennsylvania enforces strict bag limits.
During its April 12 meeting, the Ohio Wildlife Council will accept public comment on the state’s turtle regulations. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Wildlife District One Office in Columbus.
Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without population declines. In a 2014 study, researchers found that, looking at mean demographic rates, no harvest could be sustained for softshells, and common snappers could withstand only minimum rates of juvenile harvest and no adult harvest.
As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity has been petitioning states that allow commercial turtle collection to improve regulations.
In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters. Then, in 2012, Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles and Alabama completely banned commercial collection. Last fall, the Missouri Department of Conservation announced — in response to a Center petition — that it will consider ending unlimited commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles. Most recently, in March, new regulations setting closed seasons and possession limits for for-profit turtle trappers in Iowa went into effect.
Also last year, in response to a 2011 Center petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May added four turtles — including common snapping turtles, smooth softshell turtles and spiny softshell turtles that are targeted in Ohio — to a list called “CITES Appendix III.” Trade in Appendix III species requires an export permit and documentation that the animal was caught or acquired in compliance with the law, allowing the United States to monitor trade closely. The animals must also be shipped using methods designed to prevent cruel treatment.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.