Commercial turtle harvest is unregulated in Iowa for several species. The Iowa DNR is considering beginning to regulate the turtle harvest. Specifically, the DNR proposes closing the turtle harvest season through mid-July, which would reduce the harvest of adult females. The DNR's white paper outlines the issue and proposed regulations, and can be downloaded with the link. Some commercial harvesters oppose these regulations, but I am in strong support of them. Below is the letter I wrote to the DNR supporting increased turtle regulations.
I'm writing as a "non-consumptive" stakeholder in regards to the proposed commercial turtle harvest regulations. I consider myself a stakeholder in this issue because I study turtles both within the state of Iowa, and on the Mississippi river on the Iowa/Illinois border. I earned my PhD from Iowa State in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program and currently am a postdoctoral researcher at Iowa State. All of the research related to my dissertation and current job is on turtles. I am also a taxpayer and purchase hunting/fishing licenses in the state of Iowa each year, and as such I am concerned that our state resources are managed properly, and not exploited for financial gain by a few.
I support the proposed regulations (closing the season each year until mid-July) for multiple reasons. First, I have read and agree with the primary findings of the IA DNR's paper "Iowa's Commercial Turtle Harvest". As stated in the paper, harvesters tend to target larger individuals, and often females. Multiple lines of scientific evidence strongly indicate these mature adults are the most valuable individuals in the population. Thus, from a managment perspective these are also the most important to conserve. Secondly, the turtle harvest is alarmingly high, and has been steadily increasing. This is mirrored by a reduction in catch per license. Thus, there is already evidence of the negative impact of harvesting on Iowa's turtle populations, and if unchecked, could be catastrophic for turtle populations.
Additionally, the analyses in the paper likely underestimates the impact of harvesters on turtle populations. I understand that harvesting efforts were concentrated in only a few parts of the state in the late 80s, and have since expanded across much of the state. This pattern suggests harvesters are targeting "virgin" waters, and this spatial pattern is not specifically accounted for in the white paper's analyses. As an analogy, if timber harvesters were clear-cutting across a fully forested state unchecked, diminishing returns wouldn't be documented until most of the state resource has actually been removed, and it was too late to implement sustainable strategies. As turtle populations are notoriously difficult to monitor, the exploitation of the resource would not be nearly as apparent as in the forestry analogy. The DNR should be commended for their initiation of the turtle monitoring program.
I do not support any commercial turtle harvest in the state of Iowa. Neighboring states have appropriately reduced or eliminated commercial harvest. However, if Iowa envisions commercial turtle harvest as an important part of its economy, it ought to manage the resource sustainably. The story of overexploitation and collapse of natural resources has repeated itself countless times in recent history, and we know long-lived, slow to mature organisms are most vulnerable to overexploitation. Thus, in the interest of keeping a sustainable turtle harvest industry in the long-term future, Iowa must drastically reduce turtle harvest now. Otherwise, future and even current generations of turtle harvesters will be unable to viably utilize the resource.
Finally, it seems to me that the commercial turtle harvester's may be making substantial profit on a public resource. The DNR will sell a single non-resident deer license for $426, yet a resident harvester can have unabated access to the turtle population for $100. I do not know the profit trappers are making off this public resource, but it seems that is a fairly low fee considering the profit they may make, and the harm they induce on everyone's resource. If commercial turtle harvesting continues, the DNR should consider increasing license fees, or taking a percentage of sales (harvesters who take more, pay more).
Again, thanks for facilitating the meeting yesterday, and I would like my voice to be heard in the law-making process. Please let me know if there are other things I can do, or other people I should contact in this regard. I am writing this in the hopes it will help pass the proposed regulations, so please use this letter as you see fit to support the regulations.