Several of the world’s leading turtle scientists have called on the Governor of Florida to end the commercial hunting of turtles which supplies eastern Asia.
The experts, brought together by the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission, made their plea in a letter to Governor Charlie Crist.
“Florida’s freshwater turtles are being harvested at an unsustainable rate to supply East Asian food and medicinal markets,” the letter said. “New rules recently implemented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) do not resolve this issue.”
On September 17, 2008, the FWC had voted to allow commercial fishermen to catch 20 softshell turtles a day.
“Although this was an improvement, as previously there were no catch limits, the limit is still too high,” says Anders Rhodin, Chair of IUCN’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. “Two fishermen working five days a week could take 200 animals or three-quarters of a ton of turtles a week. That is not adequate protection for Florida’s wild turtle populations.”
The 32 turtle experts recommended that the FWC makes a rule that allows individuals to take no more than one turtle a day from the wild and two turtles a day per group of individuals. They called on Governor Crist to ask the Commission to enact this rule.
The FWC had argued that most turtles exported from Florida are farm-raised, but according to the experts the numbers are misleading. Although 90 percent of the individual turtles exported from Florida are from farms, these are nearly all tiny hatchlings, they say, and the bulk of shipments by weight appear to be wild-caught adult turtles.
“An FWC Law Enforcement Intelligence Bulletin from March 2008 reports 1600–3000 lbs of live turtle flown out of Tampa weekly,” says Matt Aresco, a spokesperson for the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. “It seems unlikely that these are all farmed hatchlings, which only weigh about one third of an ounce each.”
The experts said their best guess is that these are mostly adult Florida softshell turtles, but added they don’t know for sure because FWC does not collect data on the species, sizes, or numbers of turtles that are being sent out of state. They recommended a permanent end to the commercial harvest of turtles in Florida.
In a welcome and strong demonstration of political support for wildlife protection, Governor Crist responded to the letter by urging the FWC to consider moving toward a complete ban on harvesting of wild turtles in Florida.
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