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Time to ban the snapping turtle hunt

Snapping turtle, Credit: James Paterson

Snapping turtle, Credit: James Paterson

Snapping turtles are easy to recognize. They have a spiky tail like a little stegosaurus, and always fascinated me as a child. So I was troubled to learn that anyone with a fishing license can hunt them in Ontario. The federal government’s proposed new management plan for snapping turtles is an opportunity to finally ban the snapping turtle hunt, but so far it has come up short.

Snapping turtles often get a bad rap because people think they are aggressive. Maybe, like me, you grew up thinking they would bite off your fingers or toes if you got too close. Generally, they don’t bite underwater and only bite on land when threatened.

Snapping turtles are late-bloomers; females don’t reproduce until they’re 17 to 19 years old. And, most of their offspring do not survive. Having reproductive adults around for a long time is crucial to the survival of the species. Even harvesting a few adult turtles can adversely affect a population, making any hunt unsustainable.

Snapping turtle hatchling, Credit: Scott Gillingwater

Snapping turtle hatchling, Credit: Scott Gillingwater

Hunting snapping turtles is illegal in most provinces where they are found; only Saskatchewan and Ontario continue to allow it.

The snapping turtle hunt in Ontario used to be unregulated. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) recently imposed maximum numbers for hunters (2 turtles per day) and now require hunters to report the number of animals they harvest each year.

But the MNRF can’t track hunters who aren’t reporting. According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), in 2012, four hunters reported a total harvest of 13 snapping turtles. If so few people are hunting turtles, why have a hunt? It’s possible that few hunters are reporting their harvests. Neither explanation justifies continuing the hunt.

Legal hunting is just one threat the turtle faces that could be easily eliminated. The new management plan says that provincial regulations on harvesting snapping turtles will be evaluated and possibly adjusted, but this is not nearly strong enough protection for a species that is so sensitive to the removal of adult turtles.

The draft for the new management plan is open for public comment until May 29. This is a chance to let the government know that it needs to make a hunting ban explicit and unconditional. Snapping turtles are of special concern – let’s not wait until they are endangered before taking action.

By Allison Nicholls, Citizen Science Intern


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  1. John

    Please don’t punish the 4 legal snapping turtle hunters by banning this hunt. If someone hunts snapping turtles and does not report them, it is illegal already – it is called poaching. You would just be hurting the hunters that are obeying the law. These hunters have paid licensing fees that go towards protecting the animals and maintaining a sustainable environment.
    Hunters want to preserve the species that they hunt. Poachers are a problem.

    • Scott

      John, the MNRF’s reasoning for allowing the hunt is flawed and not based on the best available science. It is not that the hunters did anything illegal, it is that this species is not an appropriate candidate for harvest (regardless of reporting take). Snapping Turtle life-history strategies are unlike any other game species in Ontario. What is being proposed is to stop a flawed harvest. Anecdotally, people perceive them to be abundant, though when you take a closer look at the biology and ecology of the species, you can clearly see why there is an issue with the loss of adults over the long-term. This is not based on heresy or emotions, but on science. If we can’t base decisions on the best available information we do a disservice to our local ecosystems, and to our human residents as well.

  2. Dean

    Stop hunting snapping turtles
    They will be gone if you don’t
    Hunt deer if you are so he’ll bent on killing

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