The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is considering a turtle harvest season to protect female turtles while they are nesting. The Council has received the following information about this effort from the DNR via the Raccoon River Watershed Association, a Council member organization:
There have been preliminary meetings with commercial turtle harvesters and others concerning the establishment of a season to harvest wild turtles (snapping, softshells and painted) from July 16 – December 31. Currently the turtle season is open year around for those three species. One hundred pounds of live turtles or 50 lbs. of dressed turtle is permitted for those who have a sport fishing license. Turtles harvested with a sport fishing license cannot be sold.
There is no limitation on the number of pounds of turtles a person can harvest with a commercial harvester license. The fee for a commercial harvester license is $100. The DNR does restrict the method of take and gear attendance.
The purpose for the possible season is to protect females during most of their egg laying season. Justification for this is given below. Stakeholders have until February 23, 2014 to provide comments to Martin Konrad at this email address: Martin.Konrad@dnr.iowa.gov
Iowa’s turtle populations are unlikely to sustain the current level of commercial harvest because:
1. Turtle life history (e.g., longevity, age at maturity, low reproductive output, heavy nest predation, and low hatchling survival) suggests that they are vulnerable to overharvest.
2. The number of licensed turtle harvesters has been steadily increasing from 1987-2013.
3. Turtle harvest (for all commercial species) has been steadily increasing from 1987-2013.
4. Annual harvest per licensed commercial trapper has gradually decreased from 1987-2013.
5. Iowa has historically lost (and continues to lose) aquatic and nesting habitat.
6. The demand of overseas markets (particularly the Chinese market) is high and increasing.
7. There is ample evidence demonstrating the overharvest of turtles occurs where there was little or no regulation (e.g., multiple species in Southeast Asia, alligator snapping turtles in the southeast United States, bog turtles in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, and sea turtles in the U.S. and beyond).