Effects of commercial harvest on freshwater turtle populations
May 2019 - December 2021
- Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Most turtle species are long-lived, mature at advanced ages, and have slow reproduction. These life history traits make their populations especially vulnerable to even modest levels of adult mortality. Despite this, commercial harvest of aquatic turtles in Arkansas has historically been unregulated and from 2004 to 2017, approximately 1.3 million wild aquatic turtles were commercially harvested, of which, 95% were taken in the Mississippi Delta ecoregion. Turtles are sold to meet global demand for use as food, pets, and curatives in folk medicine. At present, 10 species of aquatic turtles can be legally harvested with no daily or annual bag limits, no size class restrictions, and no specified harvest season(s). The Arkansas Unit, with support from the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission, is leading research to investigate the effects of commercial harvest on turtle populations and demography across the Delta ecoregion. Using a combination of population modeling and field research, the Arkansas Unit, leader by graduate student Andrhea Massey, is attempting to quantify the impact of harvest, assess the current population levels of turtles in the Delta, and explore potential management options to ensure the long-term sustainability of freshwater turtles in Arkansas. Results from this study will be integral in developing effective state regulations to ensure the long-term viability of freshwater turtle populations in Arkansas.