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MN Plan Aims to End Commercial Harvest of Turtles

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The spiny softshell is among the three turtle species allowed to be commercially harvested in Minnesota. (Adobe Stock)
The spiny softshell is among the three turtle species allowed to be commercially harvested in Minnesota. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
February 12, 2021

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Efforts to protect popular species in Minnesota, such as walleye, have resulted in plenty of debates and policy action. But conservation groups say there's one species that needs more attention.

A bill in the Legislature would end commercial harvesting of the state's native turtle population. Introduced by Rep. Samantha Vang - DFL-Brooklyn Center - it would prohibit the trapping of turtles for commercial purposes.

It comes nearly two decades after Minnesota put a pause on issuing new licenses for trapping. But Vang said she thinks that isn't enough, and says there are still about 20 sellers working in the state, trapping turtles to be sold as pets or for their meat.

"Tens of thousands of turtles are trapped each year in Minnesota," said Vang. "And they play a major role in our ecosystem."

The Department of Natural Resources, which backs Vang's proposal, says the 2002 moratorium slowed harvest numbers, but certain types of turtles have seen occasional spikes in recent years.

Some Republican lawmakers question whether Minnesota should focus more on other factors, such as roadkill. Supporters of the bill say the turtle-harvesting industry remains significant and shouldn't be ignored.

The measure would still allow turtles to be trapped for recreational and personal use. As for the commercial trade, Christopher Smith - conservation committee chair for the Minnesota Herpetological Society - said current rules aren't sustainable for trying to maintain healthy populations for these creatures.

"They're very slow to mature, they are very long-lived," said Smith. "And when adult turtles, especially adult females, are removed from the population, it doesn't take many individuals to actually result in overall population impact."

Vang's proposal has seen some House debate, and was laid over to possibly be included in an omnibus bill.

The Center for Biological Diversity says 30 states prohibit commercial turtle trapping. It cites Minnesota as among the states with weak protection laws on the books.

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