State wildlife commissioners voted Monday to extend the three-year moratorium banning the commercial harvest of turtles from Oklahoma’s public waters for another two years.
The moratorium is only in place on public waters in Oklahoma. Turtles still can be collected and sold from private lakes and ponds in Oklahoma.
Before the moratorium passed three years ago, turtles in Oklahoma could be commercially harvested from all lakes and ponds.
Turtles that are commericially harvested are most often sold as pets or overseas to Asian markets, where they are a highly sought after food delicacy.
An Oklahoma turtle buyer told state wildlife officials that most of the turtles collected in Oklahoma are from private ponds and then used as brood stock. The hatch is then sold to China.
Three years ago, the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission issued the moratorium when national environmental groups petitioned the state to stop allowing the commercial harvest of turtles, contending the turtle population is being driven to extinction.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, in conjunction with Oklahoma State University and Southeastern Oklahoma State University, since has been researching the state’s turtle population.
But researchers wanted another two years to complete their findings before making any recommendations.
However, preliminary findings presented to the commission on Monday showed a significant decline in the current turtle population in eastern Oklahoma when compared to a population survey done in the same areas in the ‘90s by Oklahoma State University.
Many states already have banned the commercial harvesting of turtles.
The state Wildlife Department issues permits to turtle trappers and turtle buyers.
Before the moratorium, trappers were allowed to take as many turtles as they could from Oklahoma’s public waters, with the exception of three protected species: alligator snapping turtle, northern map turtle and western chicken turtle.
The three species most collected in Oklahoma by commercial turtle trappers are soft shells, common snapping turtles and red-eared sliders.