Too many turtles caught, critics say

Group wants fewer turtles harvested in Kentucky, other states

amead@herald-leader.comMarch 17, 2009 

Save the turtles?

They aren't as awe-inspiring as whales, not as cute as, say, baby seals. But scientists and environmental groups say freshwater turtles will be in trouble unless commercial harvests are reined in in Kentucky and several other states.

The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, joined by Kentucky Heartwood and two dozen other groups, has asked eight Southern and Midwestern states to end "unsustainable commercial harvests."

The numbers of turtles caught in those states has increased as demand for turtle meat rises in China, the groups say.

Kentucky has laws that protect rare species, such as alligator snapping turtles and chicken turtles. There are no limits on catching common snapping turtles and soft-shell turtles.

Alligator snappers and chicken turtles can be mistaken for the more common species, the diversity center said.

"Turtles are an important part of aquatic ecosystems, and this unsustainable trade needs to be stopped," said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the diversity center.

John MacGregor, Kentucky's state herpetologist, could not be reached for comment Monday. Mark Marraccina, a public-information officer with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, did not immediately have a response about how the agency will deal with the request to tighten regulations.

At least one commercial trapper works on Reelfoot Lake in Western Kentucky. There's also a trapper who specializes in removing turtles from stock farms in that part of the state.

Turtles can live for 100 years, but they reproduce slowly. Removing just a few adults from a pond or stream can affect the turtle population for decades, the center said.

Because turtles live a long time in waters that often are polluted with mercury and other contaminants, they also are unsafe to eat, the center said.

The other states said to have inadequate turtle protection laws are Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3319.

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