Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 27, 2019

Contact: Jenny Loda, (510) 844-7100 x 336,

Ban Sought on Commercial Wild Turtle Trapping in Maryland

Unlimited Numbers of Snapping Turtles Can Currently Be Caught, Sold

ANNAPOLIS, Md.— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Maryland Department of Natural Resources today to end commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles.

Under current Maryland law, turtle trappers can legally collect unlimited numbers of common snapping turtles to sell domestically or export for Asian food and medicinal markets. More than 70,000 wild common snapping turtles were trapped in Maryland between 2008 and 2016, according to reports submitted by holders of snapping turtle harvest permits.

Today’s petition asks the department to amend its rules to prohibit this unsustainable practice. The agency has 60 days to begin the rulemaking process or deny the petition with a written explanation.

“Turtle trappers shouldn’t be allowed to profit off a practice that puts the state’s natural heritage at risk,” said Jenny Loda, an attorney and biologist at the Center who works to protect vulnerable reptiles and amphibians around the country. “Scientists know that even modest commercial trapping of freshwater turtles can lead to population crashes. For the sake of our native turtles, Maryland needs to rein in exploitative turtle trapping.”

In 2007 Maryland banned commercial collection of diamondback terrapins. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources adopted regulations restricting trapping of common snapping turtles to tidal waters and setting a minimum size for turtles captured.

While these were important steps, recent research from neighboring Virginia and elsewhere shows that current harvest regulations in Maryland are not likely to be sustainable for wild turtles.

Until recently, Maryland’s regulations were similar to those in neighboring Virginia. But earlier this year, Virginia adopted new restrictions for commercial trapping of common snapping turtles in response to a multiyear study in the state that found its regulations were not sustainable. Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without population declines.  

“Commercial trapping is devastating to turtle populations that are already suffering from habitat loss, water pollution and vehicular collisions,” said Loda. “Maryland needs to take action now to keep its turtle populations from plummeting.”

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. Last year, in response to Center petitions, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department banned commercial collection of their states’ wild freshwater turtles.

Before that, in 2017, New York halted all commercial terrapin turtle harvesting and 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 for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases