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Ontario changes rules on capturing snapping turtles

Toronto Sun

April 25, 2012

By Antonella Artuso

TORONTO - Ontarians who harvest snapping turtles will be required to report their catch to the Ministry of Natural Resources starting this year.

Nature groups, which spear-headed an 11,000-name petition demanding a complete ban on the turtle hunt, say the measure falls far short of what’s needed to ensure the survival of the slow-maturing species.

Ministry of Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle said Wednesday that snapping turtles are found in a wide area of the province and have not been identified as a threatened or endangered species.

The biggest risk to snapping turtles is road mortality, and the ministry is working with transportation officials to determine if some steps could be taken to reduce those deaths, Gravelle said.

The government has long banned commercial harvesting of snapping turtles but some recreational hunters and anglers continue to take turtles, he said.

“We do think this is about, quite frankly, finding a real balance,” he said. “We’ve decided we should be continuing to look at this closely which is why we’re requiring mandatory reporting of snapping turtles that will be caught. And we will certainly use that information to support any future policy decisions.”

John Urquhart, conservation science manager with Ontario Nature, said they’re shocked at the government’s response to the petition demanding a hunt ban on snapping turtles, which are designated as a species of special concern.

The reptiles’ survival success is based on longevity since only a few eggs make it to adulthood.

“They’re going to be threatened or endangered if we don’t do something,” he said.

Snapping turtles can grow to a maximum of about 50 pounds in Canada and some scientists believe they can reach 150 years old, but they’re almost 20 years old before they start laying eggs.

Urquhart said several U.S. states have banned the hunt outright over fears that some people are catching the creatures and exporting them as food to other countries.

“We don’t know if that’s happening here but we’re not trying to find out,” he said.

Currently, an Ontarian with a provincial fishing licence can take up to two snapping turtles a day during the season.

Urquhart said it will be hard for conservation officers to prove those turtles won’t be sold as meat, and difficult for MNR to enforce mandatory reporting.

The government’s decision also ignores evidence from researchers that Ontario snapping turtles may have high levels of PCBs and be unfit to eat, he said.

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