Would Prohibit By Law Harvesting of Turtles, Found in Delaware Bayshore and Other Coastal Areas
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew to protect diamondback terrapins, a species of turtle native to New Jersey that has become at-risk due to over-harvesting and other concerns, was approved today by the Senate. It now heads to the governor’s desk. The bill would prohibit the harvesting of the turtles by law.
“Diamondback terrapins face a real risk of population reduction from overharvesting and loss of habitat. In addition, hundreds are killed each year by motor vehicles. Designating these turtles as non-hunting species and banning harvesting is the right thing to do to help protect them for years to come,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland).
New Jersey is one of the few states that still allows harvesting of diamondback terrapins, according to a report in the Press of Atlantic City. For the last two years, the harvesting season for diamondback terrapins was cut short by the Department of Environmental Protection due to concerns about excessive harvesting. The DEP last week proposed a regulation, currently in the public comment phase, that would close the harvesting of diamondback terrapins in New Jersey indefinitely. The bill would make the change in state law.
Habitat loss and road mortality pose major threats to the health of the population. Each year, hundreds of terrapins are killed by motor vehicles, particularly in summer months when females actively search for suitable nest sites. In recent years they have also been at risk due to commercial harvesting.
In 2013, more than 3,500 terrapins were taken from two South Jersey locations and provided to an out of state facility that raises them for overseas markets. More than 14,000 offspring of the adult terrapins were then exported to Asia, the DEP said.
The bill, S-1625, would designate the diamondback terrapin as a nongame indigenous species, subject to laws, rules and regulations according to the “The Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act.” Under the bill, it would no longer be legal to catch or take diamondback terrapins in New Jersey. It would also require that the Commissioner of Environmental Protection conduct biological and ecological data research on the State’s diamondback terrapin population and determine measures to ensure the conservation of the species’ population.
“Diamondback terrapins are a unique species found in New Jersey’s coastal areas and unfortunately their numbers are in decline,” said Senator Van Drew. “We need to protect them and to restore their population, and making the ban permanent under state law will ensure the effort to conserve the species and its habitats is something the state will undertake long-term.”
The bill was approved with a vote of 37-0. It passed the Assembly by a vote of 71-0 in April.