Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 23, 2018

Contact:  Jenny Loda, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7136,        
Evelyn Merz, Sierra Club, (713) 644-8228,

Texas Bans Unsustainable Commercial Wild Turtle Trapping

List of States Curbing Commercial Turtle Harvest Grows

AUSTIN, Texas— In response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and several Texas-based conservation organizations, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission today voted unanimously to ban commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles, following a national trend of ending unsustainable turtle trapping. 

“We’re so grateful Texas has adopted these badly needed protections for the state’s native turtles,” said Jenny Loda, a Center attorney and biologist who works to protect vulnerable reptiles and amphibians. “This is a big victory for the health of the state’s wildlife and waterways.”

Texans showed overwhelming support for putting an end to commercial turtle trapping in the state — more than 98 percent of the comments received by the commission supported adoption of the proposed rule. It’s the latest in a growing list of states — including Missouri, New York and Iowa — that have ended unlimited commercial collection of freshwater turtles. Neighboring Arkansas is currently considering restrictions on commercial collection.

Before today’s vote, unlimited collection of four native, freshwater turtle species was allowed on private property in Texas: common snapping turtles, red-eared sliders, smooth softshells and spiny softshells.

Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without leading to population declines. Populations cannot remain stable when high numbers of adults and older juveniles are steadily removed due to slow reproduction.

“This is great news for Texas’ freshwater turtles as commercial trapping is devastating to turtle populations that are already suffering from multiple other threats, including habitat loss, water pollution and vehicular collisions,” said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “It’s great to see the Parks and Wildlife Commission following through with protecting these animals as a vital part of our state’s ecosystems.”

The petition that spurred today’s action was submitted last year by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, Texas Rivers Protection Association and Texas Snake Initiative.

Millions of turtles classified as wild-caught are exported from the United States every year to supply food and medicinal markets in Asia, where native turtle populations have already been depleted by soaring consumption. 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.

As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity has been petitioning states that allow unrestricted commercial turtle collection to improve their regulations. 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.

Before that, 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, three states that share a border with Texas.

Texas spiny softshell turtle

Texas spiny softshell turtle photo by Gary M. Stolz, 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.

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