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Florida Leads The Nation In Freshwater Turtle Conservation; 'This Is The Right Thing To Do'

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CRYSTAL RIVER, Florida -- Florida soon will have the strongest conservation measures for the harvest of freshwater turtles in the country as a result of a vote taken by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on Wednesday in Crystal River. The FWC approved a new rule banning the commercial harvest of freshwater turtles in Florida.

"This is a legacy vote," said Brian Yablonski, FWC commissioner, as he made the motion to approve the rule. "This decision may be one of Florida's greatest conservation stories."

Twenty-four members of the public addressed the Commission as they prepared to vote on the rule. More than half of the speakers supported the rule.

"This is the right thing to do," said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the FWC. "Florida has become the leader with this vote."

Tim Breault, director of the FWC's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, presented the new rule to the Commission.

"Florida has such a rich diversity of turtles," Breault said. "It is fitting we have the most comprehensive set of protections and conservation measures for freshwater turtles in the United States."

The rule prohibits taking turtles from the wild that are listed on Florida's imperiled species list. Also prohibited are species that look similar to the imperiled species, which include common snapping turtles and cooters. In addition, collecting freshwater turtle eggs will be prohibited. Individuals will be allowed to take one freshwater turtle per day per person from the wild for noncommercial use. The transport of more than one turtle per day is prohibited.

"To the commercial fishermen who came today, I want to say your voice has been heard," said Commissioner Dwight Stephenson. "But we're charged with protecting these species, and this new rule is necessary at this time."

Some turtle farms depend on collection of wild freshwater turtles. With the new rule, turtle farms, under a tightly controlled process, will be allowed to collect turtles to establish reproduction in captivity so that farms can become self-sustaining to lessen their dependence on collection of turtles from the wild.

"I believe this industry should be moved to aquaculture. That's the logical place for it to be," Barreto said.

The closed season for the take of softshell turtles, May 1 to July 31, will not change under the new rule.

"I'm proud of this Commission," Margaret Gunzburger, a Florida resident, told the Commission. "And I'm proud to be a Floridian today."

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