Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 31, 2017

Contact:  Jenny Loda, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7136,
Evelyn Merz, Sierra Club, (713) 644-8228,

Ban Sought on Commercial Trapping of Wild Turtles in Texas

Groups Want End to Unlimited Capture of Four Native Species

AUSTIN, Texas— The Center for Biological Diversity and several Texas-based conservation organizations petitioned the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department today to end commercial trapping of the state's wild turtles. 

Under current Texas law, turtle trappers can collect unlimited numbers of four turtle species on private lands to sell domestically or export for international food and medicinal markets. This is putting turtle populations — already facing pollution and habitat loss — at risk across the state.

“For-profit turtle trappers shouldn't be allowed to drive the state's turtles to the brink of extinction,” said Jenny Loda, an attorney and biologist at the Center who works to protect vulnerable reptiles and amphibians. “Scientists have concluded that even modest commercial trapping of freshwater turtles can lead to population crashes. For the sake of our native turtles, Texas needs to stop this exploitative trapping.”

More than 2,000 freshwater turtles were trapped in Texas over the past two years, according to reports submitted by holders of nongame dealer permits to the Parks and Wildlife Department. International food and medicinal markets drive most of the trade.

Because turtles accumulate toxins from prey in their bodies and burrow into contaminated sediment, their 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.

Texas modified its regulations in 2007 to protect freshwater turtles from harvest on its public lands and waters; however, this only resulted in protections for turtles in 2.2 percent of the water bodies in Texas. Under current law unlimited harvest of four native, freshwater turtle species is allowed on private property in the state: common snapping turtles, red-eared sliders, smooth softshells and spiny softshells. Recent studies concluded that current turtle harvest regulations in Texas are not likely to be sustainable.

“Commercial trapping is devastating to turtle populations that are already suffering from multiple other threats, including habitat loss, water pollution and vehicular collisions,” said Evelyn Merz, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. “Unless the state bans commercial turtle trapping, Texas' turtle populations will continue to plummet.”

Today's petition was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, Texas Rivers Protection Association and Texas Snake Initiative.

As part of a campaign to protect turtles in the United States, the Center has been petitioning states that allow commercial turtle collection to improve their regulations.

In 2009 Florida responded by banning almost all commercial turtle collection from public and private waters. In 2012 Georgia approved state rules restricting commercial turtle collection, and Alabama completely banned it. And last year the Missouri Department of Conservation announced — in response to a Center petition — that it will consider ending unlimited commercial collection of the state's wild freshwater turtles. Most recently, in March, new regulations went into effect in Iowa setting closed seasons and possession limits for commercial turtle trappers.

Texas is in a regional hotspot for commercial turtle collectors, and reform is needed. If the state created closed seasons and bag limits within its borders, adjacent states would likely follow its example; the region would be better equipped to protect its turtle populations by making clear to turtle traders that trade is strictly regulated and enforced.

The Center also recently petitioned for a ban on unlimited commercial trapping in Louisiana and Oklahoma, two states that share a border with Texas.

Spiny softshell turtle

Spiny softshell turtle photo by Gary M. Stolz, USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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