In complete disregard of a petition signed by more than 11,000 people and a report jointly released by Ontario Nature, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) told us that hunting snapping turtles can continue even though the animal is listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Wow. How can Minister Gravelle, or anyone working at MNR, believe that this is the right decision? Gravelle’s response is a slap in the face to the scientific experts who determined the hunt is unsustainable, the hunters who are eating potentially toxic meat, and the 11,000 Ontarians who asked the government to stop the hunt (www.ontarionature.org/protect/campaigns/snapping_turtle.php).
MNR has decided that while it’s ok to keep killing snappers, they would like to see mandatory reporting of the “harvest.” (MNR’s suggested reporting requirement is now posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights, registry number 011-6043).
We have no idea how MNR will enforce this directive. Moreover, mandatory reporting of hunted animals (using a tag system as is the case with moose and deer) yields notoriously inaccurate data. Typically, 50% of the hunted animals are reported. Still, through a tag system, MNR has contact information for every hunter and can theoretically enforce reporting. However, people who hunt snapping turtles are not issued tags, so MNR has no way of knowing who is doing the hunting. Any reporting they do get is surely going to be a huge underestimation of the actual total. Nevertheless, MNR will use this number to determine next steps, possibly concluding that the hunt is sustainable!
The fact of the matter is that the only way to determine if the hunt is sustainable is to determine how many snapping turtles are in Ontario and monitor the changes in population size over time. In addition, it would be helpful to get an accurate assessment of how many snapping turtles are being killed annually.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, our report showed that many snapping turtles have concentrations of PCBs that are unsafe for human consumption. Yet nothing has been proposed to determine which lakes have safe levels of contamination as is done with sport fish. Snapping turtles can live for a very long time, some estimates suggest well over 100 years, and toxins accumulate in their bodies each year and often reach hazardous levels.
The snapping turtle hunt is unhealthy to people who eat the meat and unsustainable for snappers. Minister Gravelle’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the evidence means everyone loses.
Please go to the EBR posting and ask MNR to do the right thing and ban the snapping turtle hunt or impose a moratorium until MNR has accurate hunting estimates, population trends and toxicity results across the turtle’s range with which to base an informed decision.
John Urquhart is Ontario Nature’s conservation science manager.