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For Immediate Release, April 9, 2012

Contact:  Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Alabama Ends Commercial Harvest of Wild Freshwater Turtles

Other States, Feds Should Follow Suit to Stop Slaughter of Native Turtles

MOBILE, Ala.— Alabama moved to protect its wealth of diverse, native freshwater turtles when the state’s conservation advisory board voted unanimously to approve emergency regulations banning all commercial collection and killing of wild turtles and their eggs in public and private waters. The new regulations, which went into effect on Sunday, are among the most protective state rules to prevent export-driven overharvest of native turtles in the southern United States.

“Way to go Alabama! We’re so glad that states across the South are finally beginning to clamp down on the slaughter of native turtles,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who specializes in protecting reptiles and amphibians. “Turtle harvesters in the United States are catching and exporting millions of wild freshwater turtles every year, devastating populations that are already suffering from a lot of other threats, like habitat loss, water pollution and road mortality.”

The United States is a turtle biodiversity hotspot, home to more types of turtles than any other country in the world. U.S. turtle traders capture and sell more than 2 million wild  freshwater turtles each year — mostly to supply food, pet and medicinal markets in Asia, where soaring turtle consumption rates have already decimated the local turtles.

Because freshwater turtles live for a long time — some up to 150 years — and breed late in life, with low reproductive rates, they are highly sensitive to overharvest. Alabama hosts 30 native turtle species — more than half of all the native freshwater turtles in North America. Alabama herpetologists sounded the alarm that the state’s turtle populations were plummeting because of demand and a lack of regulation.

In 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for international trade restrictions to end unsustainable export of freshwater turtles. The petition seeks protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for 20 species of native midwestern and southern freshwater turtles, including the alligator snapping turtle, map turtles, softshell turtles, spotted turtle, Blanding’s turtle and diamondback terrapin.

In Alabama, personal collection of turtles (for pets or food) is now limited to two per day, and these animals cannot be sold. Turtle consumption poses a human-health risk; because turtles live longer and bioaccumulate considerably more contaminants than fish, many turtles sold as food are contaminated with mercury, PCBs and pesticides.

Alabama’s new regulations void all commercial turtle harvest permits, which previously allowed catching and keeping up to 10 turtles per day. Alabama turtle farmers can continue to propagate native turtles, but brood stock must come from other permitted turtle farmers or from legal sources outside of Alabama. Turtle dealers can continue to buy, sell, import and export legally acquired turtles, but the state now requires stricter annual reporting from turtle dealers.

Along with a coalition of conservation and health groups, the Center submitted regulatory petitions in 2008 and 2009 to 12 states without adequate turtle protections (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas). These petitions ask for state bans on commercial harvest from all public and private waters to prevent further depletions of native turtles.

In response to the petition, Oklahoma enacted a moratorium on commercial harvest of turtles from public waters in 2008, while studying the status of its wild turtle populations. In 2009 Florida banned almost all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles from public and private waters; the same year South Carolina limited turtle harvest for nine native species, with regulations allowing taking no more than 10 turtles from the wild at one time and no more than 20 turtles in one year. Earlier this year Georgia set annual catch limits for eight species of native turtles, but they are not sufficiently protective of vulnerable turtles because they allow high harvest rates with no possession limits.

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