WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has proposed adding four types of freshwater turtles to an international endangered species list, in part to better monitor exports of the species, whose meat is considered a delicacy in Asia.
Under the plan the common snapping turtle, Florida softshell turtle, smooth softshell turtle and spiny softshell turtle would be listed under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global pact ratified by 180 countries.
In a Federal Register posting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said a CITES listing would allow it to determine whether exports are taking place legally and if other measures are needed to conserve the species.
The proposal is open to public comment for 60 days.
“Declines have been documented or locally severe
declines may be possible in at least some portions of the range of these four native U.S. freshwater turtle species,” said the FWS, which is part of the Department of the Interior.
The snapping turtle’s habitat ranges from Florida and Texas to the Canadian prairies. The turtles, the second largest freshwater turtle native to the United States, can live for more than 100 years in the wild.
They tend to mature and breed late and are thus dependent on high adult survivorship, “which makes the species vulnerable to directed anthropogenic activities, such as collecting,” the agency wrote in the Federal Register.
U.S. turtle, turtle meat and egg exports have been rising since at least 1990. Many of the exports are bound for human consumption and stocking farms in East Asia, especially China.
Some 811,717 live common snapping turtles were exported from the United States in 2011, up 24 percent in two years, according to the latest FWS figures.
Live Florida softshell turtle and spiny softshell turtle or turtle egg exports also jumped from 2009 to 2011.
“Although a significant proportion of these live specimens and meat originated from turtle farms, the level of wild harvest necessary to maintain farm production is unknown,” the agency said in its proposal.
Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Bill Trott