Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 5, 2017

Contact:  Elise Bennett, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 755-6950,
Raleigh Hoke, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 x 204,

Louisiana Refuses to Protect Freshwater Turtles From Commercial Trapping

Unlimited Harvest Threatening 20 Wild Turtle Species

BATON ROUGE, La.— The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on Wednesday denied a scientific petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Gulf Restoration Network to protect 20 turtle species from unlimited commercial trapping and sale. The petition included several studies indicating that even moderate levels of harvest can devastate turtle populations.

“Turtles are a precious part of Louisiana's rich wildlife heritage, so it's disappointing to see state officials turning a blind eye to this problem,” said Elise Bennett, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who is dedicated to protecting rare reptiles and amphibians. “Because of turtles' unique life histories, it could be decades before populations reflect the irreversible damage caused by unrestrained harvest. At that point it could be too late.”

Louisiana law currently allows holders of a reptile-and-amphibian-collection license to take and sell unlimited numbers of common snapping turtles, southern painted turtles, eastern and western chicken turtles, river cooters, red-eared sliders, Mississippi mud turtles, stripe-necked musk turtles, eastern musk turtles, five types of map turtles, and five types of softshell turtles with no closed season. Licensed collectors are also permitted to take unlimited numbers of the estuarine Mississippi diamondback terrapins during an open season. Until mid-2016 Louisiana did not require commercial trappers to report information about their turtle catches, so the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has little information on how many wild turtles are actually being removed from state waters.

“Louisiana's incredible diversity of turtles deserves careful protection,” said Raleigh Hoke, campaign director at the Gulf Restoration Network. “It is my hope that the state Department will gather more data on our turtle populations and make it publicly available to scientists and concerned citizens so we can address this threat together.”

As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center has successfully petitioned states that allow unrestricted commercial turtle collection to improve harvest regulations. In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial collection of freshwater turtles from public and private waters. In 2012 Georgia approved state rules regulating the commercial collection of turtles, and Alabama completely banned commercial collection. And in October 2016, Missouri agreed to consider a ban on unlimited commercial harvest in response to a petition submitted by the Center and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. More than 100 scientists signed a letter in support of banning for-profit trapping in Missouri. 

Life-history characteristics such as delayed sexual maturity, dependence on high adult survival, and high natural levels of nest mortality make turtles vulnerable to rapid declines from exploitation. Scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without population declines.

Common snapping turtle
Common snapping turtle photo by Dakota L. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Gulf Restoration Network is a network of environmental, social justice, and citizens' groups and individuals committed to empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico for future generations.

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