Snapping Turtle Workgroup

Meeting Summaries and Agendas


History and Background of the Snapping Turtle Fishery

Snapping turtles have been found in archaeological excavations in the Chesapeake region to at least the Woodland period (1000BC-1600AD). They were used in colonial America as food by settlers and slaves and recorded in the commercial fishery in 1873. The commercial fishery was unmanaged for over 100 years. Snapping turtles were viewed as a nuisance until recently, when their role in the ecosystem as a scavenger and predator has been recognized.

They continue to be blamed for duckling predation, with very little supporting evidence. Increased international demand starting in the late 1990's led DNR to seek management authority for this unmanaged species and enabling legislation passed in 2007. A workgroup, representative of all stakeholders and scientific experts in snapping turtles was assembled and first met in 2007. Workgroup members came from turtle harvesters, chosen from their harvest reports, scientists from Towson University and the University of MD, National Aquarium in Baltimore, Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society, seafood dealers, an aquaculturist, Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators and Maryland Trappers Association, Conservation International/IUCN, as well as MD DNR (Fisheries Service, Wildlife and Heritage Service, Natural Resources Police).

This workgroup recommended limits to the previously unregulated commercial fishery and to keeping as pets. Further population study was highly recommended to Fisheries Service (FS). Those recommendations resulted in emergency interim regulations in 2008. Based upon a snapping turtle study by Pat Cain and Rich Seigel of Towson University, in cooperation with waterman John Edwards, data were presented and discussed by the workgroup in 2008. Those data were used to develop 3 management options to present to the workgroup. The recommendations for the regulations in place today were agreed upon by all stakeholders at the last meeting in November 2008 and became permanent starting in 2009. The commercial industry and scientists agreed that these recommendations were the best option for maintaining sustainability.

The 11" minimum CCL possession limit was crucial because it protected over 60% of females. This regulation prohibits possession of turtles under 11" in MD even if they were legally harvested in another state. In addition to the minimum size limit, turtles may only be legally harvested in tidal waters, harvest reports are required, and gear restrictions and float requirements are in effect. Personal use and pet regulations limit possession to one turtle and gear restrictions apply. There is an assumption that non-tidal waters are sanctuaries in effect and that movement may occur between non-tidal and tidal waters.