Arkansas researchers count Mississippi River Delta turtles
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has launched a three-year study to track aquatic turtles in the Mississippi River Delta to help inform officials if harvest restrictions are needed.
Researchers have been trapping, marking and releasing nearly 100 turtles a day since May. They notch the turtles’ shells so they can be identified if caught more than once.
Brett DeGregorio, who heads the Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research unit of the U.S. Geological Survey, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the count will provide the commission with scientific data so it can determine if restrictions on turtle harvesting are needed in Arkansas.
“Depending on our site, we’re getting between 10% and 30% recaptures,” DeGregorio told the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette. “We’re getting exactly the data we were hoping to get, so we’re going to have some really good answers at the end of this study.”
The study is funded through a $107,963 grant from the commission and another $97,243 from the University of Arkansas. The research team comprises DeGregorio, a UA associate professor of biological sciences, a UA graduate student and someone who was hired for the summer to help trap turtles. The study is the first to count turtles in the Delta this extensively, DeGregorio said.
Commercial harvesting is permitted in the Delta. Reports submitted to the commission show that 95% of the more than 1.3 million turtles commercially harvested in Arkansas between 2004 and 2017 came from the Delta. Most of them were red-eared sliders (72.6, followed by spiny softshells (6.1%), stinkpots (4.3%), common snapping turtles (3.8%) and river cooters (3.4%).
“When regulated properly, turtle harvest poses little threat to overall turtle populations,” said Ben Batten, chief of fisheries for the commission. “We have good records about commercial turtle harvest through our annual reporting system, but we also need to ensure the overall population is in good condition to continue the use and conservation of this renewable resource.”
While some turtles are exported for the pet trade, the majority are large size class sliders, snappers and softshells sold to overseas markets for food, according to a report from Kelly J. Irwin, a herpetologist for the commission.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com