Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 15, 2018

Contact:  Elise Bennett, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 755-6950,  
Debbie Doss, Arkansas Watertrails Partnership, (501) 472-6873,
John Kelly, (314) 479-7375,

Arkansas Curtails Commercial Trapping of Wild Turtles, Orders Study

Protections Limit Some Killing, But Stronger Rules Needed

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Arkansas-based environmental organizations, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today unanimously adopted regulations to restrict commercial trapping of wild freshwater turtles and study the effect of commercial trapping on wild populations.

The new regulations ban commercial harvest of all turtles in the Gulf Coastal Plain and the St. Francis River in Greene and Clay counties. They also ban the harvest of razorback musk turtles statewide.  

The regulations also create new reporting requirements for commercial dealers and trappers, which are intended to ensure more accurate self-reporting of the number and size of turtles trapped.

The commission will conduct a three-year study from 2019 to 2021 to determine the effect of commercial trapping on wild turtle populations in the Delta region, where the majority of trapping occurs. During the study period, the sale of commercial turtle harvest and dealer permits will be capped at 150 permits per year.

“Arkansas is making progress by limiting unsustainable commercial turtle trapping and looking at impacts on wild populations, but stronger protections are badly needed,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians. “A ban on trapping is vital for ensuring a future for Arkansas’s wild turtles. The new regulations are a step in the right direction.”

Before the new regulations, trappers could legally collect unlimited numbers of 14 types of turtles from roughly half the state to sell domestically or export to foreign food, pet and medicinal markets. The new regulations would still allow commercial collection of 13 types of turtles, but with additional geographic limitations.

“It’s great that our native turtle species will have more protections from the dangers of commercial harvesting and that Arkansas will soon have a study of our own native  populations,” said Debbie Doss, director of the Arkansas Watertrails Partnership. “Studies from surrounding states have shown how sensitive these animals are to any reduction in numbers. It is my hope that this study will lead to better and more informed protections in the future. I am grateful to all who commented in favor of the new rules. Arkansans clearly love their turtles!”

“Turtle harvesting has proven to be a universally unsustainable practice, and Arkansas is no exception,” said John Kelly, a biologist and teacher who completed his masters’ study on Arkansas’s turtle populations. “The Natural State has the choice to reverse the harmful and permanent impacts harvesting has had on freshwater turtles and the beautiful rivers and wetlands they live in, but it needs to do so quickly and decisively. The new regulations get us moving in the right direction.”

Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without population-level impacts and declines. One study of common snapping turtles demonstrated that a modest harvest of 10 percent per year for 15 years could result in a 50 percent reduction in population size. And an Arkansas study found that turtles from populations in heavily harvested areas were significantly smaller than those from areas where harvesting is not permitted.

Conservative records show that more than 1.3 million wild turtles have been harvested from Arkansas’s waters over the past 13 years. Most of these were large, reproductively mature turtles important to the survival of wild populations.

A growing number of states have already dedicated themselves to protecting wild turtles. In February Missouri banned commercial turtle trapping, and in August Texas followed suit. In 2017 New York ended commercial trapping of diamondback turtles, Nevada halted commercial reptile collection, and Iowa reined in trapping with new harvest limits. In the past decade, Florida and Alabama have completely banned commercial turtle trapping, and Georgia and Mississippi have approved stronger regulations on the industry.

The petition to end unlimited wild turtle trapping in Arkansas was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Arkansas Sierra Club, Arkansas Watertrails Partnership, Audubon Society of Central Arkansas, Environmental Resources Center, Kory Roberts and John Kelly, a biologist who recently studied Arkansas’s turtle harvest. In October the commission voted to deny the petition to ban commercial turtle trapping but proposed the regulations that were adopted today.

Razorback musk turtle

Razorback musk turtle photo by Grover Brown. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Arkansas Watertrails Partnership is a nonprofit organization initiated to provide volunteer public support for the Arkansas Water Trails Program. The aim of the Arkansas Water Trails Program is to highlight Arkansas as prime paddling territory.

More press releases