U.S. Finalizes Trade Protections for Four Freshwater Turtle Species on World Turtle Day

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U.S. Finalizes Trade Protections for Four Freshwater Turtle Species on World Turtle Day-Unsustainable and illegal trade threatens the future of native turtles
(Common snapping turtle, Florida Softshell Turtle, Smooth Softshell Turtle and Spiny Softshell Turtle )

Press Release, May 23, 2018,
Contact(s): Laury Parramore, 703-358-2541 [email protected]

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today celebrates World Turtle Day by addressing the growing threat of unsustainable and illegal trade in native freshwater turtles through a final rule that will bring four native freshwater turtle species under the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The listing of the common snapping, Florida softshell, smooth softshell and spiny softshell turtles under CITES will require exporters to obtain a permit before shipping turtles overseas, helping the United States better control trade to ensure it is legal.

“World Turtle Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world and to focus on stopping illegal trade in these species, which are threatened by unsustainable trade and wildlife trafficking. In 2013, we collaborated with international partners to adopt CITES protections for Asian freshwater turtles. Our own native species face the same global demand, so it is critical we protect them under CITES as well,” said Bryan Arroyo, the Service’s Assistant Director of International Affairs. “We will work closely with state wildlife agencies to protect native species and ensure trade is legal and sustainable, particularly for species at greatest risk of over-exploitation.”

Freshwater turtles and tortoises are collected, traded and utilized in overwhelming numbers. The Service supports a strategic, global approach to freshwater turtle conservation, as evidence shows that when protections for freshwater turtles are strengthened in one region, demand in other regions for unprotected species may increase.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement investigations have documented illegally exported softshell turtles to markets in Asia,” said Ed Grace, the Service’s Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement. “Listing these species under CITES will help engage our international partners to assist our special agents and wildlife inspectors in the fight against the illegal turtle trade, including investigating the criminals who profit from it.”

Trade in turtles is most common in East Asia, principally in China, with supplier countries feeding well-established legal and illegal trade networks. Turtles are used primarily as food and in traditional medicines, although a growing pet trade across the region and in other parts of the world is increasingly impacting a number of threatened species.

CITES is an international agreement signed by more than 180 governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Species are listed under one of three appendices depending on the severity of the threat presented by trade. Listed species may be traded internationally only when accompanied by permits.

The Appendix-III listings of the common snapping turtle and three North American softshell turtles follow the successful sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to CITES, where the United States collaborated with China and Viet Nam to increase protections for a number of Asian freshwater turtles. In total, three native turtle species and 44 species of Asian freshwater turtles received increased CITES protection at CoP16. Increased protections for freshwater turtles will continue to be a priority for the Service at the upcoming CoP17, which will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2016.

For more information on CITES and how it operates, including Appendix-III listings, visit: http://www.fws.gov/international/cites/how-cites-works.html

The final rule will publish in the Federal Register May 24, 2016. The listing will be effective Nov. 21, 2016.
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