Threats to Texas turtles due to commercial trapping for the Asian food market
Texas turtles are currently under an enormous amount of pressure due to profit driven individuals willing to trap reproductively active turtles from our waters to be sold in Chinese food markets. Currently Texas law allows for the take of red eqar sliders, soft shell turtles and common snappers from bodies of water on private property. However, that accounts for about 95% of the bodies of water in Texas. Because of this combined with the methods used for trapping all species of freshwater turtles in Texas are at a severe risk of over-exploitation.
Law enforcement also becomes a logistical nightmare as many species become similar in appearance with advanced age. This combined with inpectors having to 'spot check' shipments ranging from 2,000-8,000 turtles (sometimes more) leaves a huge potential for not species prohibited from trade to be taken.
Sadly many of the rivers in Texas contain high enough levels of contamination from the form of methyl mercrury to PCBs and other pollutants that are harmful to human health. Because of this the consumption of fish taken from some portions of the Trinity River has been banned. However, despite the fact that turtles are known to hold several times more contaminants in their flesh than fish these animals are sold to the food trade. Approximately 10% of the freshwater turtles captured in Texas for the food trade are sold back to Texans. This unregulated food source poses a significant health concern nd should be avoided.
Above: The odd appearance ofthese river cooters is due to bacterial infections and malnourishment. The white portions of the shells are bones exposed after the protective scutes have fallen off from injury and infection. This photo was taken in 2006 at a Texas reptile dealership. The turtles were too unhealthy to be sold as pets so they were being sold as food instead. The current instructions provided for housing turtles harvested for the food trade fosters these types of health problems.
The consumption of turtles has been a part of Asian culture for thousands of years. Unfortunately the supply cannot meet the demand and Texas turtles should be managed as a valuable wildlife resource instead of a completely unregulated commodity. Pictured above is a tank of soft shelled turtles being sold at an Asian supermarket in Plano, Texas 2008.