A ban on turtle harvesting in the Gulf Coastal Plain and along the St. Francis River in Clay and Green counties voted on today by the state Game and Fish Commission won’t make much of a dent in the total take of freshwater turtles in Arkansas — only 0.2 percent come from the Gulf Coastal Plain for example — but the commission did agree to study whether its trapping rules are having a negative consequence on native turtles.
The commission was acting in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arkansas Sierra Club, the Arkansas Watertrails Partnership, the Audubon Society of Central Arkansas, the Environmental Resources Center and two individuals. The petition cited declines in turtle populations from other factors — pollution, habitat loss, car strikes and incidental takes from fisheries — and said commercial harvesting was contributing to the decimation of populations.
The commission also agreed to add reporting requirements for trappers and dealers to get a better idea of the number and size of turtles taken. It’s estimated that only 60 percent of the harvest — about 120,000 turtles in between 2014 and 2016 — is being reported.
Ben Bratten, Game and Fish fisheries chief, said the commission would issue an RFP for the turtle study, to be conducted from 2019 to 2021. He said the commission would “let science dictate” how the commission should regulate the harvest. He said the bans enacted today were done to make law enforcement easier. The state also banned the harvest of razorback musk turtles, since other states in the region have banned that as well and the different laws have presented confusion about enforcement.
In a news release from the Center for Biological Diversity, center lawyer Elise Bennett was quoted as saying, “Arkansas is making progress by limiting unsustainable commercial turtle trapping and looking at impacts on wild populations, but stronger protections are badly needed. A ban on trapping is vital for ensuring a future for Arkansas’s wild turtles. The new regulations are a step in the right direction.”
The three most commonly harvested turtles are common snapper, American softshell and red-eared sliders, and 95 percent of the harvesting comes from the Delta. Missouri, Alabama and Florida already ban the harvest of freshwater turtles.