Many Great Lakes states are taking steps to protect turtles. There’s a big demand for turtles in Asia and Europe. But too much trapping can damage wild turtle populations. As a result, states are placing bans or restrictions on turtle trapping. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson reports:
Many Great Lakes states are taking steps to protect turtles. There’s a big demand for turtles in
Asia and Europe. But too much trapping can damage wild turtle populations. As a result, states
are placing bans or restrictions on turtle trapping. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Dan Gunderson reports:
(sound of paddling)
Joanna Schmidt pushes a canoe into a small slough in northern Minnesota. She paddles toward a
floating rectangle of plastic pipe. The simple device is a turtle trap. It’s about four feet long with
net in the bottom and a board attached to the side.
“We put a plank on the side and they crawl up to sun themselves and they
just fall in. It’s pretty simple. No mechanics to it. They do all the work for us.”
Joanna Schmidt is a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She’s
part of a long-term turtle research project. Researchers want to learn
more about turtle habitat, and why there’s been a recent decline in turtle
This slough is about a quarter mile across. It lies in a hollow surrounded
by farm fields. Chest high grass and reeds line the water’s edge. Along one end, dead,
sunbleached trees stick out of the water. It’s perfect turtle habitat.
“It’s warm, a lot of food for them, not very many predators, so they like it,
especially having the dead trees with a place to hang out and sun themselves. So this is
Gunderson: “Any estimate of how many turtles might live in a slough this size?”
“Not just yet. That’s what we’re hoping to get to. And that’s what the DNR would
like to know.”
There are several turtles in the trap. Most have been caught before.
They’re identified by small notches in their shells. Schmidt weighs and measures
each turtle before gently setting them back in the water.
Minnesota State University Moorhead Biology professor Donna Stockrahm is
directing this research project. She says it takes years of research to get meaningful data about
turtles. They grow very slowly and they live a long time.
Stockrahm is hoping to learn about rates of turtle mortality, growth rates,
and the optimum habitat for turtles.
She’s seen a puzzling decline in turtle numbers.
“We started this in 2001 and they marked over 250 turtles. Then in 2002
the number just dropped drastically. And there seemed to be fewer turtles
around, even turtles that you see out sunning themselves on rocks and limbs and
dead tree trunks and things like that.”
Stockrahm says she doesn’t have an explanation for the decline. She’s
waiting to see if the trend continues this year.
Turtles are in demand in Europe for pets, and in Asia for
traditional medicines. More than seven million turtles are
exported from the United States each year.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources researcher Rich Baker says
trapping is one reason turtle populations are down.
“What we’ve learned relatively recently is that especially in northern
latitudes commercial harvest really isn’t sustainable. These populations
of slowly maturing species just can’t sustain harvest of adults from the
Rich Baker says demand for turtles is driven largely by Asian and European
markets. Baker says many Asian turtle species are endangered because of
Those markets are turning to North America which is a particularly turtle-rich
part of the world and the upper Midwest which is a particularly
turtle-rich part of North America. Many of the states in the upper Midwest
have actually closed commercial turtle harvest completely.”
Most Great Lakes states now ban or restrict turtle trapping. Rich Baker
says Minnesota decided to phase out commercial harvest. He says about a dozen
people make a living trapping turtles. They’ll be allowed to continue.
People who like to eat turtle can still get a license to trap for personal
use. But there will be no new commercial turtle trapping licenses.
Minnesota will allow turtle farms as an alternative to harvesting wild turtles.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Gunderson in Moorhead, Minnesota.