When they go into effect later this summer, the new regulations will make it illegal to trap wild turtles for commercial sale on state controlled waters, waterways, and lands. Matt Wagner is leader of the Parks and Wildlife Department's Wildlife Diversity program, and he says the new protections are needed because of turtle meat's growing popularity worldwide.
"Over the last several years we've seen a large volume of turtles being collected out of the wild and sold, mostly to foreign markets for meat, for food supply, either to put into turtle farms, or directly to markets where they're sold as meat."
Wagner says it's a fact that unrestricted taking of any wild species leads to declines in that species' population. He estimates that on average, about 95 thousand turtles of all kinds are captured in Texas each year, mostly export, and mostly to Asia, where turtles are almost an endangered species because they're such a popular delicacy. That's why restaurant owners in China are buying turtles from wherever they can be captured.
"What we're seeing now is a shift to other countries to collect turtles to supply those foreign markets."
The Parks and Wildlife Commission originally wanted to prohibit capture of turtles everywhere in the state, but private landowners protested, and the rule was changed to allow capture of some turtles on private property. When they go into effect, the rules will protect at least 15 species of turtles and more than 200 other nongame wildlife species on state property. Wagner thinks the demand for turtle meat abroad will probably lead to turtle farming in Texas, which wouldn't be a bad thing, because it's already going on in Louisiana and some other southern states.
"In Louisiana most of the turtles that are exported are grown in turtle farms, and at some point in Texas, we'll probably have a permit that would allow captive breeding of turtles in farms to take the pressure off our wild populations."
While turtles and more than 200 nongame species will be protected on state property, at least 84 other nongame species will not be protected, and will still be collected for commercial purposes. A list of those unprotected species can be found at a link on our website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.