Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 29, 2018

Contact: Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950,

New York Rule Will Prevent More Turtles From Drowning in Coastal Crab Traps 

Terrapin Excluder Devices Lessen Drowning Risk for Coastal Turtles

ALBANY, N.Y.— New regulations in New York will protect diamondback terrapins from drowning in crab traps. The Department of Environmental Conservation filed a notice of adoption of the turtle-protection rule Wednesday, responding to widespread support from conservation organizations and citizens, including the Center for Biological Diversity and its members.

The rule now requires trappers to use small, inexpensive appliances called “terrapin excluder devices” on crab traps in most of the terrapin’s coastal habitat in New York. It reflects the culmination of a decades-long effort by wildlife officials, conservationists and the public to protect the state’s only estuarine turtle.

“It’s a brighter day for New York’s terrapins thanks to state wildlife officials,” said Elise Bennett, a Center staff attorney dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians. “Now that they’re no longer at risk of drowning in droves in crab traps, diamondback terrapins will have a chance to survive and recover in peace.”

Terrapin excluder devices keep terrapins out of traps by altering the size of the traps’ entrances so the majority of adult turtles cannot fit through. These devices can protect more than 70 percent of terrapins while having little to no effect on crab hauls. New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland have adopted rules requiring these devices, and South Carolina has teamed up with local crabbers to test them out in its coastal waters.

Crab traps are lethal to terrapins. Enticed by the lure of fresh bait, they drown when they cannot escape. Gregarious by nature, terrapins have been known to follow one another into traps. One study reported 94 terrapins in a single trap. A body of studies conducted over 75 years show that these deaths in crab traps can decimate terrapin populations and have likely contributed to their decline.

“New York’s new rule sets a shining example of how a small adjustment can make a tremendous difference for terrapins,” said Bennett. “Other coastal states along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico should follow New York’s lead to ensure the survival of these unique and beautiful turtles.”

Diamondback terrapins, found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, are the only North American turtles that live exclusively where fresh water meets the sea. They are critical to coastal ecosystems, eating salt marsh periwinkle snails that can become overpopulated and devour marsh grasses that protect shorelines and sustain wildlife.

In September, New York ended the commercial harvest of diamondback terrapins in state waters. More than 60 scientists signed a letter supporting the rule, explaining that the practice put New York’s terrapins at risk.

The latest rule will give terrapins an even greater chance at recovering from historic overharvest, crab trap mortality and other threats to them and their coastal habitat. The rule also allows the state to require terrapin excluder devices in other coastal areas if crab traps cause population declines.

As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center has petitioned for and advocated on behalf of state regulations that support the wellbeing of wild turtle populations.

Earlier this month, in response to a Center petition, the Missouri Department of Conservation banned commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles. In September of last year, Nevada created a statewide ban on the destructive commercial collection of all reptiles and New York halted all commercial terrapin turtle harvesting.

In March 2017, Iowa adopted new regulations setting closed seasons and possession limits for commercial turtle trappers. In 2012 Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles, and Alabama completely banned commercial collection.
And in 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters.

The Center recently petitioned for a ban on unlimited commercial trapping in Arkansas, Louisiana  and Oklahoma.

Diamondback terrapin

Diamondback terrapin photo courtesy USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases