Global environmental challenges
Greens see freshwater turtle trouble in Florida
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Tuesday that several leading scientists have called on Florida Governor Charlie Crist to curtail the commercial hunting of freshwater turtles in his state.
“Florida’s freshwater turtles are being harvested at an unsustainable rate to supply East Asian food and medicinal markets. New rules recently implemented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) do not resolve this issue,” the scientists said in a letter.
In September, the FWC had voted to allow commercial fishermen to catch 20 softshell turtles a day.
“Although this was an improvement, as previously there were no catch limits, the limit is still too high,” said Anders Rhodin, Chair of IUCN’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. “Two fishermen working five days a week could take 200 animals or three-quarters of a ton of turtles a week. That is not adequate protection for Florida’s wild turtle populations.”
The 32 turtle experts recommended that the FWC makes a rule that allows individuals to take no more than one turtle a day from the wild.
The FWC maintains that most turtles exported from Florida are farm raised but experts say many wild-caught turtles wind up in shipments to Asia, where rapid ecomomic growth has stoked demand for a range of wildlife products from ivory to fish.
We have reported before on the plight of freshwater turtles in Texas, which are also harvested for markets in Asia, where the meat is highly prized and is believed to have medicinal benefits as well. Last year the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife estimated that over 90,000 turtles a year were taken by dealers, mostly for export outside the state. In Texas experts have warned that overharvesting could lead to the collapse of the populations of some species – just as unsustainable catches have decimated a number of fisheries.
Texas has many man-made dams so its wild turtle population may be artificially high, but overall the critters in the U.S. South and globally face many threats, ranging from pollution to development. Human harvesting adds more pressure to their numbers not least because they are generally easy to catch.
What do you think? Should there be bans on the commercial harvest of freshwater turtle populations in America and elsewhere? Or should the wild harvest be strictly regulated? Or is that possible to enforce?