Although eating terrapin is not as popular today as it was in late 19th-early 20th century, harvest for the pet trade and food markets overseas is a growing concern. Currently it is legal to harvest diamondback terrapins in New Jersey. Current harvest regulations have been subject to increased opposition recently with an apparent increase in pressure from harvesting on New Jersey’s terrapin population.
In 2014, 3,500 terrapins were taken and shipped out of state. In addition, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers recently caught fishermen who had illegally harvested an additional 800 terrapins in Absecon Bay. As a result of these events, the terrapin harvest was closed in 2015 and 2016 to allow the terrapin population status and current harvest regulations to be reviewed.
Further conservation action may be considered, and there is a bill pending in the state legislature that would make the harvest of wild diamondback terrapins illegal if passed.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Why do people still harvest terrapins?
A: Terrapins are harvested for food and for the pet trade. Many are sent overseas to countries in Asia where turtle meat is popular. Due to their attractive appearance, terrapins make popular pets both in the US and overseas. The illegal pet trade is a concern for many turtle species including terrapins.
Q: Why is the harvest a concern?
A: Diamondback terrapins take a long time (up to 8 years) to reach an age where they can reproduce, and both eggs and young turtles have a low chance of survival. Adults have relatively few natural predators and a high chance of surviving to reproduce many times. Removing adults from the population can therefore be detrimental to the long term survival of the population. Because the legal harvest of terrapins in NJ included adults only (> 5 in), the harvest could contribute to population declines. In addition, the harvest regulations do not limit the number of terrapins harvested nor require a report of harvest totals. As a result there is no reliable record of the number of turtles removed each year, meaning it is impossible to know what the impacts of the harvest are.
Q: Do other states allow terrapins to be harvested?
A: Harvest is banned in MA, RI, CT, VA, NC, AL, and TX. States that allow some level of either commercial or non-commercial harvest, or both, include NJ, NY, LA, MD, SC, GA, FL, and MS. Specific harvest regulations vary by state.
Q: What were the regulations for terrapin harvest in NJ prior to the closure?
A: Before the temporary closure in NJ, the harvest was open Nov. 1 to Mar. 31. As the regulations are currently written, there is little restriction on the harvest aside from a size limit of 5 inches plastron (bottom part of the shell) length and a ban on the use of any type of net or trap to harvest terrapins. There is no limit on the number of turtles that can be harvested.
Q: What is The Wetlands Institute doing to help?
A: Most recently, the Wetlands Institute worked with Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science (MATES) Project Terrapin to help support efforts to close the terrapin harvest . We will continue to work with local and state partners to help guide any changes to the terrapin’s regulatory status, or other conservation actions that may be proposed. We support greater protection for the species and the bill to change their status to non-game species. We will continue to protect terrapins from other threats to their population on the roads and in the marshes.
Q: What can I do to help terrapins?
A: You can help terrapins by stopping and crossing nesting females when possible, by volunteering to assist with one of our terrapin projects, and by helping to educate others about the threats they face. You can read the proposed bills to classify terrapins as a non-game species and, if you like, add your voice in support of the bills.
Terrapins Need Your Help!
The Wetlands Institute is supportive of legislation to remove terrapins from the games species list. If you would like to voice support for the bill to list terrapins as a non-game species, you can find contact information for your state representatives at the link below.