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Officers Going After State's Turtle Poachers

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Officers going after state's turtle


Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officials say they are stepping up enforcement on turtle poaching, an ongoing problem throughout the state.

Some turtles, like the snapping turtles, have been the target of commercial trapping operations, which supply food establishments with turtles for soups and meals. Sometimes individuals are trapping more than their legal limit.

Other species like the Eastern box turtle, which is on the state’s species of special concern list, are being taken illegally by collectors who do not have a permit that would allow possession for scientific study.

“I’m sure people are over-harvesting the turtles to sell them to commercial markets for people to eat and some are having their own private turtle stew parties,” said Lt. Mary Sherzer, the DNR district law supervisor for Grand Rapids.

“The others, like the Eastern box turtle are not being eaten, they are being taken by collectors and used as pets. At least that’s what we’re uncovering in an investigation we began two weeks ago.

“These turtles are a premium and are desirable because they are rare.”

Enforcement is being stepped up because of an increasing number of complaints being received by the department from concerned citizens, Sherzer said.

In September, John Fisher of Saugatuck, a trapper, was charged in the 58th District Court in Grand Haven with taking more than his legal limit of turtles.

DNR conservation officers found Fisher with 16 snappers and three Blandings turtles. The legal limit for snappers is 10 and two for Blandings. Fisher was sentenced to one year of probation, a $400 fine, had his boat and motor impounded and lost his fishing license for one year.

Sherzer said not all judges take poaching violations so seriously and that she was happy with the decision handed down by the court.

“It sends a message to the turtle poachers that the DNR and courts are taking a dim view of this.”

Michigan’s turtle harvest regulations were tightened up in 1991. Prior to that turtle harvest was widely unregulated. The 1991 regulations were largely designed to keep large commercial turtle trapping operations out of the larder. These out-of-state-based trapping operations could come into Michigan and turn a fair trade in snappers for restaurants.

“We’re actually quite liberal yet compared with many other states,” said Ned Fogle, with the DNR’s fishery division. “Over-harvest is still a big problem with many species. You have to look at the black market and you will see that there is money to made.”

In Michigan, all that is required to take turtles for personal use is a fishing license. Commercial licenses are needed for commercial sales. Personal limits, which are the same daily and for total possession, are: 10 snapping and two softshell turtles. The size limits for both are a 12-inch carapace length.

The season is July 1 through Sept. 30 in the Lower Peninsula and July 15 through Sept. 30 in the Upper Peninsula.