Expanding global turtle demand spawns new rules in Georgia

  • Follow Rob Pavey

Florida and South Carolina did it years ago, and Georgia is poised to adopt its own rules to regulate an expanding commercial harvest of freshwater turtles.

The spiny softshell turtle is among several Georgia species that would be regulated by the state to prevent overharvesting by prolific commercial exporters.  Special
The spiny softshell turtle is among several Georgia species that would be regulated by the state to prevent overharvesting by prolific commercial exporters.

“Right now the biggest demand seems to be the common snapping turtle, although there’s also a lot of interest in musk turtles,” said Mike Harris, the non-game conservation section chief for Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.

Turtle collecting, and commercial turtle farming, are believed to be increasing in Georgia, with many species collected for export to Asia and other areas.

“We do have farmers who grow turtles in ponds or maintain breeding populations and they sell hatchlings overseas,” Harris said. “But right now we don’t even have rules in place that will allow us to collect data on the numbers involved in the trade.”

In January, the state’s Board of Natural Resources will be asked to adopt rules that will require permits and recordkeeping to help track the number of turtles being shipped out of Georgia.

The rules, which include a $50 resident commercial turtle permit – and a $500 for non-resident fee – would not apply to people who just want to catch or collect turtles for personal use.

“If citizens want to catch up to 10 per day to eat or keep as pets, as long as it’s 10 or fewer in aggregate of all species, there is no permit required,” Harris said.

According to a draft of the new regulations, the prolific pond slider would be the least regulated, with a proposed annual limit of 1,000, while common snappers, various mud and musk turtles, and painted turtles would be limited to 300.

The most restrictive limit – 100 per year – is proposed for less common species, including the spiny softshell, Florida softshell and river cooter.

A complete copy of the proposal is available online at www.gofishgeorgia.com/conservation.

HUMAN RABIES: South Carolina authorities Friday announced confirmation of the state’s first case of human rabies in more than 50 years.

The victim, who is likely to die of the disease, is a middle-aged Sumter County woman who was bitten by a bat that entered her home several months ago.

“There are only about one to three cases of human rabies each year in this country,” said medical epidemiologist Eric Brenner of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Tragically, rabies almost always ends in death.”

According to Brenner, bites from infected bats are one of the most common forms of exposure to humans. Unfortunately, bat bites can be tiny and often go undetected.

Other animals that typically can be infected include raccoons, foxes, skunks and other wild animals.

EAGLE STUDIES: Wildlife authorities are closely observing the bald eagle population along Thurmond Lake, where dozens of the big birds have died in recent years of a neurotoxin linked to algae that grows on the invasive aquatic weed hydrilla.

Ken Boyd, an Army Corps of Engineers biologist, said one dead eagle was recovered near Cherokee Boat Ramp the day before Thanksgiving, but good numbers of live eagles are also being seen at the lake.

Coots, the small waterfowl that feed on hydrilla, are often infected with the condition known as avian vacuolar myelinopathy, or AVM. Eagles that feed on coots also develop the disorder, which causes fatal brain lesions.

This year, thousands of coots are already wintering at the lake and feeding heavily on hydrilla.

“Unfortunately, with the low lake levels more hydrilla is exposed and available,” Boyd said, adding that a number of sick coots already have been recovered.

MARINA CLOSURE: In a short news release issued last week, the Corps of Engineers formally announced the closure of Little River Marina and Family Resort at Thurmond Lake, effective at midnight Dec. 27.

“All marina operations and facilities will close at that time,” the announcement said.

“The marina lease will be advertised by competitive means in an effort to award a lease and provide a public marina facility as soon as possible before the spring-summer 2012 recreation season.”

The 129-acre site, with docks, boat storage, cabins and other amenities, has been operated by Pam Bugg and her family since 1986. It is one of six commercial marinas at the lake authorized by the corps when the project was designed in the 1940s.

The corps opted not to renew the operator’s lease and has asked that all personal property and stored items be removed.

The corps plans to issue a notice of availability in January to begin the process of finding a new entity to operate a marina on the site.

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Riverman1 12/18/11 - 10:47 am
It's too bad turtles aren't

It's too bad turtles aren't eaten in this country like in others. There's a zillion of them in the river.

bjphysics 12/18/11 - 11:14 am
Always takes forever to chew

Always takes forever to chew the shell.

eric mills
eric mills 12/26/11 - 11:47 pm
Go, Georgia! Here in

Go, Georgia! Here in backward California we import an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 freshwater turtles for the Chinatown live food markets (L.A., San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento). All, reportedly, are taken from the wild, depleting local populations.

Our Dept. of Fish & Game allows only two species in the markets: red-eared sliders and spiny softshells. None of these animals are native to California, and they prey upon and displace our native wildlife, when released into local waters. Worse, they're all diseased and parasitized, with everything from E. coli, salmonella and pasturella (which can kill you), to giardia, blood paraites, even one case of malaria. Bon appetit! I'd sooner eat a dead rat.

Our Fish & Game Commission, after 15 years of constant haranguing, last year voted 5:0 to cease issuing import permits for the market frogs and turtles, yet the Department of Fish & Game continues to issue the permits on a month-to-month basis, despite the fact that the Commission received more than 3,500 letters and emails in support of the ban. So much for the democratic process and protecting our resources, hey?

If this bloody and brutal trade is to cease, it must be stopped at both the source and the markets. Otherwise, we're on the verge of losing an entire family of animals which has been around for more than 200 million years. And for what? Soup and superstition.

itsanotherday 12/27/11 - 12:21 am
Eric, if their release into

Eric, if their release into local waters damages the local environment, I'm 100% in favor of banning importation. I support that in every case, including pets like snakes that are foreign to the local ecology. We have a serious problem with the snakehead fish because Orientals import them for food. That is just one of many examples.

Riverman1 12/27/11 - 05:16 am
Turtles are omnipresent and

Turtles are omnipresent and considered a nuisance in GA-SC. If we can find a way to make money on them, go for it.

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