In 2017, in response to a petition filed by Great Rivers and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Missouri Department of Conservation proposed a ban on the commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.— In response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, the Missouri Department of Conservation today banned commercial collection of the state’s wild freshwater turtles — following a national trend of ending unsustainable turtle trapping.
“This ban saves thousands of turtles from trappers seeking to make a quick buck,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s a big victory for all of us who care about the health of the state’s wildlife and waterways.”
Prior to the amendment that went into effect today, holders of a commercial fishing permit could take unlimited numbers of common snappers, spiny softshells and smooth softshells from portions of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers with no closed season. According to the state conservation department, 1,100 river miles were open to commercial turtle collection. Thousands of Missouri’s turtles were caught and sold over the past 10 years.
Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without leading to population declines. For example, in a 2014 Missouri study researchers found that no commercial collection could be sustained for softshells, and common snappers could withstand only minimum rates of juvenile collection and no adult collection.
“Much gratitude to Missouri’s Department of Conservation for preserving Missouri’s wildlife for future generations,” said Bruce Morrison, general counsel for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “It followed through with protecting these animals as a vital part of our state’s ecosystems.”
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 regulations. Of the states that share a border with Missouri, only Arkansas still allows unlimited commercial collection of turtles.
As a result of the Center’s campaign, last fall Nevada created a statewide ban on commercial collection of all reptiles and New York halted all commercial terrapin turtle trapping. 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 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. www.biologicaldiversity.org
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health. www.greatriverslaw.org
Please direct press inquiries to:
Collette Adkins, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Morrison, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, (314) 231-4181, email@example.com
Photo of Common Snapping Turtle by Dakota L. This image is available for media use.