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Terrapin catch raises alarms
State considers ban on diamondback trapping as harvest leaps twentyfold
By Tom Pelton
Sun reporter
February 7, 2007

Maryland is considering a ban on the capture of diamondback terrapin after watermen reported trapping more than 10,000 of the rare turtles last year - a twentyfold increase from the year before.

Demand for the state reptile is fueled by a growing appetite for Chesapeake terrapin soup in China, where many native turtles have been killed off.

Terrapin traps have proliferated despite regulations imposed by the Ehrlich administration last year that were advertised as an effort to save the turtle.

The regulatory effort "totally backfired," said Willem Roosenburg, a terrapin expert at Ohio University who advised Maryland on last year's rules. "I thought [the new regulations] would essentially close down the fishery."

The rules outlawed catching terrapin from November through July - but allowed the capture of smaller turtles, with shells from 4 to 7 inches long, from Aug. 1 through the end of October. Before last year, trapping turtles with shells smaller than 6 inches was prohibited.

Some watermen have said that the more liberal size limits encouraged more trapping and shipping of the small turtles to China. Faced with a booming market for terrapin in Asia, legislators and advocates in Maryland are urging the state to protect the reptile.

"Terrapin are a marvelous creature, and we certainly don't want to lose our state icon," said state Del. Virginia P. Clagett, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who has more than 30 co-sponsors on a bill to ban terrapin trapping. "We don't want to see the terrapin disappear, which is the way they are heading."

Terrapin are unique because they're the only turtle in the U.S. that can survive in the brackish mixture of salt and fresh water found in the Chesapeake Bay. They're called "diamondback" because of the patterns on their shells, and they have been the mascot of the University of Maryland since 1932.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is studying the possibility of a ban on terrapin trapping or tighter regulations, said Howard King, director of fisheries program at the agency.

"The information we received does compel us to further restrict the harvest of terrapin and do a better job of protecting terrapin nesting habitat," King said.

The construction of rock walls, roads and houses along beaches has destroyed terrapin nesting grounds, contributing to the decline of the species - perhaps more than trapping, King said.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said he believes that terrapin populations are healthy and outlawing trapping would eliminate an important source of income for watermen.

"Every time you take something away from a waterman, he's that much closer to starving to death," Simns said.

Maryland watermen reported trapping 10,278 of the reptiles last year - up from the 447 the previous year, 1,542 in 2004, 397 in 2003 and 124 in 2002, according to a new state report.

One reason the numbers spiked last year is because of better reporting required under the 2006 regulations, King said.

The estimates before last year might have significantly understated the terrapin harvest, King said. The state created a new license last year for diamondback trapping, and 34 watermen received the permits, according to state figures. Fewer than 10 watermen a year told the state they were fishing for terrapin before that. But more might have been catching the turtles and keeping it quiet, King said.

He said Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration plans to introduce new regulations this spring, after public hearings. "One option is an outright ban," King said. "Another option would be the status quo, and a third would be in the middle - a reduced harvest."

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat, is working with Clagett and other lawmakers on legislation that would outlaw commercial harvest of the terrapin. People would still be allowed to catch and keep up to three as pets, according to a draft of the bill. "The females produce very few eggs, and their mortality rate is very, very high," said Dyson. "We can't allow the kind of exploitation that's been going on."

Backing the legislators is a coalition of conservationists, including leaders of the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

"We can't have our state reptile and eat it, too - that's what it boils down to," said Jack Cover, general curator for the National Aquarium.

Eleven states have outlawed the commercial harvest of the turtle, including Virginia, Delaware and Massachusetts, but not Maryland.

"It's very ironic," said Cover, who has been lobbying lawmakers this week in Annapolis to support the ban. "It's the mascot of the University of Maryland, and if we love our state mascot that much, we've got to make this decision."

Terrapin grow up to a foot in length, live up to a half-century and use their clawed feet to dig mollusks out of the mud.

The famously shy reptiles play an important role in preserving the bay's salt marshes and discouraging erosion. Terrapin eat snails, which eat spartina grass.

"If those populations of snails aren't kept down, the salt grasses will get eaten, and then the marshes will be washed away," said Richard B. Stanley, volunteer legal adviser for an advocacy group called the Chesapeake Terrapin Alliance.

Until the late 19th century, terrapin were regarded with disdain - fit only as food for servants.

Their image improved in the 1880s when a Crisfield businessman, Albert T. Lavallette Jr., started breeding them and marketing terrapin soup as a delicacy for upscale restaurants.

The turtles were regarded as a status symbol like caviar. They were fished almost to extinction around the turn of the century. But then the turtle soup, which was cooked with liberal amounts of sherry, went out of style in the 1930s with Prohibition.

Demand for the turtles was low until the late 1990s, when Asian consumers began seeking terrapin (which are native to America) for soup as their own turtles disappeared, said Marguerite Whilden, co-director of the nonprofit Terrapin Institute.

Nobody knows how many terrapin are left, but many experts suspect their numbers are falling as the bay's beaches are devoured by development, said Whilden.

One study, by Ohio's Roosenburg, found that the population of adult female terrapin in a section of the Patuxent River dropped from about 1,000 in 1996 to fewer than 300 in 2005.

"We don't want them to become threatened or endangered," said Whilden. "Because if you get to that point, you've lost the battle."

[email protected]
 

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Eminent Brothers,
I remember last years Yellow Perch hearing on the Eastern Shore when the "Turtle Lady" (from the terrapin Institute) got up to testify, on what I still have no idea. But Larry Simms response is to be expected. He may indeed be right about watermen being closer to death and that is unfortunite. On the other hand I don't want to see terrapins show up as the mystery ingredent on the Iron Chef either. There was an article in Cheaspeake bay magazine about the trendy desire for terrapin soup almost killing off the terrapin years ago. My gut reaction to Ms. Clagett's bill is to support it. But the Maryland Watermans Association is a powerfull entity and Larry Simms is an effective spokesman/lobbist. Will be interesting to see if the bill gets watered down or killed in committee.
 

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Keep us informed as to when the public meetings will be held. In the meantime, I'll ready my torch and pitchfork.

I'll feel a bit bad starving Mr. Simns to death. Perhaps if he ate the terrapins instead of selling them he wouldn't be in such a bind. Now I understand that the distended bellies on the MWA reps at the Yellow Perch hearings last year were the result of starvation and I feel bad for taking food from their mouths.
 

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It will be a good day for the bay when Mr. Simms steps down.I've met him a few times and IMHO he doesn't look down the road at the future.I wish I had recorded him when the rock closure was put in place.He swore every charter boat would be out of business.Same with oysters-now with the turtles.He needs to understand that it's 2007 not 1957.The bay is alot differant now.Skip
 

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disappeared?

Demand for the turtles was low until the late 1990s, when Asian consumers began seeking terrapin (which are native to America) for soup as their own turtles disappeared,

I think disappeared is the incorrect term...how about over harvested?
 

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Demand for the turtles was low until the late 1990s, when Asian consumers began seeking terrapin (which are native to America) for soup as their own turtles disappeared,
I think disappeared is the incorrect term...how about over harvested?
What I like to see is where the reported harvest numbers are coming from. Anybody want to bet the harvest is coming from a less polluted area of Maryland?

Most of the pollution is coming from the rivers on the western shore and it stands to reason that the wildlife numbers are down also. But. Does that mean all areas of the state have low
numbers?
 

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reds my post came DIRECTLY from the 4th sentence from the end in the opening post, having been to A LOT of asian countries I can accurately tell you they will wipe out everything as long as they can make a profit on it and when they wipe out their own they go looking for someone elses...and greedy watermen will do the same thing if given the chance...think they have scruples...forget it...the Japanese still hunt whales under the guise of research but all the meat and blubber still makes it to restaurants at exhorbitive prices...I've always been a supporter of watermen making a living but not at the expense of destroying 'OUR" enviroment...when living in Virginia I attended more than a few fisheries meetings and listened to watermen quote scripture of how "man was given dominion over the beasts but never heard one say they were responsible for them...at this juncture in my life if all watermen disappeared I for one wouldn't miss them...Burger King is always hiring...
 

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I hope there is a ban, the last thing we need is another species gone. " Really, there were Sturgeon in the Chesapeake Bay?", someone once asked me. I said sadly replied, "Yes, there were and lots of them." I hope we do not have to say the same other other species like Terrapins.

Over the years my opinions overfishing and the decline of the Chesapeake have evolved and since it's winter on this board why not lay it out. In my opinion reading all that I have read and talking with hard core conservationists, watermen, charter captains and recreational anglers I believe the data supports that the core of our problem with all fish in the Chesapeake and it's tributaries is water quality and pollution. This comes from the "stuff" that our northern state friends puts in the Susquehanna River that flows down into the bay, it comes from development of waterfront and surrounding areas and the great increase in impervious surfaces, and among many other things extremely poor management of our sewage treatment. (just find out how much raw sewage is allowed to flow into the Miles River on a regular basis without being reported. If you find out it will make you sick and that is just one little down on one tributary on the bay!). This is the root. I believe this should be our #1 focus to improve things.

Now, having said that it does not mean that we do not need to decrease harvest limits. We do, not because the watermen, recs or anyone else are to blame as "the reason" it happened, but merely because we have to adjust to the pollution situation. Just because it is not the watermen's fault does not mean they can just harvest as they have been, if they do they will kill populations of fish. We as recs should not blame the watermen, "if" we did not have the water quality problems I believe the data supports the fact there would be plenty to go around for everyone. However, that is not the case, so as a result the watermen get jammed and getting jammed means that the watermen's way of life is unfortunately disappearing. But what is the choice, we have pollution, we have lower levels of fish which means there has to be less taken/harvested, if not then the watermen and recs together will over fish the species.

The whole spring "trophy" season issue is crazy. Forget all the economics for one second and I would ask the question, "Is it morally right for us as humans to whack the populations of spawning fish the way we do?" Before you answer, forget all the manly bravado stuff about hanging big dead fish on the dock and just consider at the root level the morality of the situation.

Now I know that someone will criticize that question and say that you can not just ask that question with out considering the economics and my response will be that of course you can, you just do not want to. However, let's look at it economically in two ways. First, do we want to whack these fish for the next few years the way we have make money with the charters and then go to no business because there are none OR do we want to reduce things, have less business, but at least some and be able to stay in business for the long run? Second, what is a fish worth that you actually catch a few times if catch and release is practiced?

I will end this with a quote that strikes me as pertenant as this discussion persists and all the critics that will try and inject doubt into everything, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding"

Thanks for reading on this cold winter night in the Northern Chesapeake

Read you around the boards,

Brandon
 

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Terrapin catch raises alarms
State considers ban on diamondback trapping as harvest leaps twentyfold
By Tom Pelton
Sun reporter
February 7, 2007

Maryland is considering a ban on the capture of diamondback terrapin after watermen reported trapping more than 10,000 of the rare turtles last year - a twentyfold increase from the year before.

Demand for the state reptile is fueled by a growing appetite for Chesapeake terrapin soup in China, where many native turtles have been killed off.

Terrapin traps have proliferated despite regulations imposed by the Ehrlich administration last year that were advertised as an effort to save the turtle.

The regulatory effort "totally backfired," said Willem Roosenburg, a terrapin expert at Ohio University who advised Maryland on last year's rules. "I thought [the new regulations] would essentially close down the fishery."

The rules outlawed catching terrapin from November through July - but allowed the capture of smaller turtles, with shells from 4 to 7 inches long, from Aug. 1 through the end of October. Before last year, trapping turtles with shells smaller than 6 inches was prohibited.

Some watermen have said that the more liberal size limits encouraged more trapping and shipping of the small turtles to China. Faced with a booming market for terrapin in Asia, legislators and advocates in Maryland are urging the state to protect the reptile.

"Terrapin are a marvelous creature, and we certainly don't want to lose our state icon," said state Del. Virginia P. Clagett, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who has more than 30 co-sponsors on a bill to ban terrapin trapping. "We don't want to see the terrapin disappear, which is the way they are heading."

Terrapin are unique because they're the only turtle in the U.S. that can survive in the brackish mixture of salt and fresh water found in the Chesapeake Bay. They're called "diamondback" because of the patterns on their shells, and they have been the mascot of the University of Maryland since 1932.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is studying the possibility of a ban on terrapin trapping or tighter regulations, said Howard King, director of fisheries program at the agency.

"The information we received does compel us to further restrict the harvest of terrapin and do a better job of protecting terrapin nesting habitat," King said.

The construction of rock walls, roads and houses along beaches has destroyed terrapin nesting grounds, contributing to the decline of the species - perhaps more than trapping, King said.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said he believes that terrapin populations are healthy and outlawing trapping would eliminate an important source of income for watermen.

"Every time you take something away from a waterman, he's that much closer to starving to death," Simns said.

Maryland watermen reported trapping 10,278 of the reptiles last year - up from the 447 the previous year, 1,542 in 2004, 397 in 2003 and 124 in 2002, according to a new state report.

One reason the numbers spiked last year is because of better reporting required under the 2006 regulations, King said.

The estimates before last year might have significantly understated the terrapin harvest, King said. The state created a new license last year for diamondback trapping, and 34 watermen received the permits, according to state figures. Fewer than 10 watermen a year told the state they were fishing for terrapin before that. But more might have been catching the turtles and keeping it quiet, King said.

He said Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration plans to introduce new regulations this spring, after public hearings. "One option is an outright ban," King said. "Another option would be the status quo, and a third would be in the middle - a reduced harvest."

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat, is working with Clagett and other lawmakers on legislation that would outlaw commercial harvest of the terrapin. People would still be allowed to catch and keep up to three as pets, according to a draft of the bill. "The females produce very few eggs, and their mortality rate is very, very high," said Dyson. "We can't allow the kind of exploitation that's been going on."

Backing the legislators is a coalition of conservationists, including leaders of the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

"We can't have our state reptile and eat it, too - that's what it boils down to," said Jack Cover, general curator for the National Aquarium.

Eleven states have outlawed the commercial harvest of the turtle, including Virginia, Delaware and Massachusetts, but not Maryland.

"It's very ironic," said Cover, who has been lobbying lawmakers this week in Annapolis to support the ban. "It's the mascot of the University of Maryland, and if we love our state mascot that much, we've got to make this decision."

Terrapin grow up to a foot in length, live up to a half-century and use their clawed feet to dig mollusks out of the mud.

The famously shy reptiles play an important role in preserving the bay's salt marshes and discouraging erosion. Terrapin eat snails, which eat spartina grass.

"If those populations of snails aren't kept down, the salt grasses will get eaten, and then the marshes will be washed away," said Richard B. Stanley, volunteer legal adviser for an advocacy group called the Chesapeake Terrapin Alliance.

Until the late 19th century, terrapin were regarded with disdain - fit only as food for servants.

Their image improved in the 1880s when a Crisfield businessman, Albert T. Lavallette Jr., started breeding them and marketing terrapin soup as a delicacy for upscale restaurants.

The turtles were regarded as a status symbol like caviar. They were fished almost to extinction around the turn of the century. But then the turtle soup, which was cooked with liberal amounts of sherry, went out of style in the 1930s with Prohibition.

Demand for the turtles was low until the late 1990s, when Asian consumers began seeking terrapin (which are native to America) for soup as their own turtles disappeared, said Marguerite Whilden, co-director of the nonprofit Terrapin Institute.

Nobody knows how many terrapin are left, but many experts suspect their numbers are falling as the bay's beaches are devoured by development, said Whilden.

One study, by Ohio's Roosenburg, found that the population of adult female terrapin in a section of the Patuxent River dropped from about 1,000 in 1996 to fewer than 300 in 2005.

"We don't want them to become threatened or endangered," said Whilden. "Because if you get to that point, you've lost the battle."

[email protected]
"Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said he believes that {terrapin} populations are healthy and outlawing trapping would eliminate an important source of income for watermen."

Or insert species that the watermen want to catch here

"Every time you take something away from a waterman, he's that much closer to starving to death," Simns said."

Obviously, Simms has never met Beck or Evans
 

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Reds - every herpetologist I have spoken to agree that a reptile like the Terrapin, slow to reach sexual maturity and with low fecundity, whose young are subject to high mortality, CANNOT support a commercial fishery on top of all its other woes. Stop trying to defend a commercial take for the sake of a few Chinese dollars. And stop trying to say everything is OK over here in the land of clean waters! We are talking about a bay-wide decline in the breeding population of DB Terrapin, not just in the Patuxent. You blow this off like you know more than the scientists who study turtles, which just isn't so.
 

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AngleJP

Like I said above, this quote sums things up.
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding"

Once you take this into consideration is pretty much ends any debate it is even worth having with guys like Larry, Reds or anyone else from that fraction. Their BIGGEST weapon is inserting "doubt". If they do that then people start to question things. The only way in a debate to disassemble them from inflecting doubt is to demonstrate their only biased motivation to do so, money they get from not having them protected. Then demonstrate that you, I, or the person on the other side of the debate truly has nothing to gain from your point of view other then to save the fish, terrapin etc. In this case this is easy. You have nothing to gain to save the turtles other then to actually save them. You are not biased in that regard, they are totally biased. Once that fact is established in front of any governing body that has any sense, they will quickly get it and dismiss their "opinions", which is all they really are expressing.

Brandon
 

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Agreed Les.

I just want to state this as I have many times before. I do not look down, fault or anything anyone that abides by the law when keeping fish during this season and I would not push C&R down anyones throat. If it's legal it's legal. The problem resides in the people who make the laws. I read Bill Burton's article and his suggestions on the slot limit and I think his proposal is not good at all. I think the slot limit should allow fish to be kept that are 19-25 inches and that is it. Why would we want to "target" the big fish that have the genes to produce other "big" fish for the future. The law makers need to explain this beyond the, "Guys like to be able to show off big fish on the docks" explanation to me; I am open to missing something and being informed.

Brandon
 

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Reds - every herpetologist I have spoken to agree that a reptile like the Terrapin, slow to reach sexual maturity and with low fecundity, whose young are subject to high mortality, CANNOT support a commercial fishery on top of all its other woes. Stop trying to defend a commercial take for the sake of a few Chinese dollars. And stop trying to say everything is OK over here in the land of clean waters! We are talking about a bay-wide decline in the breeding population of DB Terrapin, not just in the Patuxent. You blow this off like you know more than the scientists who study turtles, which just isn't so.
It is not just the Patuxent, it's also the Potomac, West, South, Severn, Magothy and all others right on up to the Susky. Face it Phil, you people are drowning in your own **** and trying to blame anybody you can but yourselves.

Brandon's right. It's hard to understand someone trying to put you out of business when it's nothing more then a hobby to the someone.
 

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AngleJP

Like I said above, this quote sums things up.
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding"

Brandon
But doesn,t that also apply to people that work for the CCA? lets face it, the main reason some of these guys constantly bash watermen is because they are getting paid to. I think it would probally be a good idea to atleast lower the take of terripins. But like you said earlier, you shoudn,t blame the people that are just getting their legal limit. blame DNR for allowing it. Im sure DNR will make the right decision, they are doing a great job with the fisheries
 

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But doesn,t that also apply to people that work for the CCA? lets face it, the main reason some of these guys constantly bash watermen is because they are getting paid to. I think it would probally be a good idea to atleast lower the take of terripins. But like you said earlier, you shoudn,t blame the people that are just getting their legal limit. blame DNR for allowing it. Im sure DNR will make the right decision, they are doing a great job with the fisheries
CCA has one paid employee...

If terrapins vaporize I'll hold those responsible who did the taking...

Pretty simple when you think about it...Excuses like, "They said I could," don't work in kindergarten, they won't work here, or in Annapolis...
 

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KINDA a Low blow

It will be a good day for the bay when Mr. Simms steps down.I've met him a few times and IMHO he doesn't look down the road at the future.I wish I had recorded him when the rock closure was put in place.He swore every charter boat would be out of business.Same with oysters-now with the turtles.He needs to understand that it's 2007 not 1957.The bay is alot differant now.Skip
----Skip, I have to dissagree with your thoughts as to Capt. Simns stepping down, I personally feel that he is & has been an essential part of Maryland's overall Past & Future.

--To be a leader, that gets involved & gives input freely, will I guess always create requests for Demise--That goes with the job-I'm sure no one in the world knows better that the bay is diffrent now then a daily user--

---The Turtle issue was created, if i'm not mistaken by a Failure to recognize the potential Asian market for small Turtles --This was an oversight , by many & they should Collectively Reep the Blame---But then again Leadership, bares the burden ---

--Possibly a modification of Brandon"s Quote is in order--"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding" ---

TO--"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary DOSEN'T depend on Understanding" --

----The door of life swings both ways , & to me the Word Understanding has always temperd my thoughts --To each his own---Oh Well -geo
 

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ZAM: I will repeat what Chum said - there is but ONE paid employee in CCA-MD - the Executive Diredtor. Everybody else are volunteers. And, there were no limits set on the NUMBER or terrapins a licensed waterman can take daily or seasonally. The number of participants in the fishery currently has no limit and that number jumped from 17 to about 35 in 2006 alone.

see http://www.cterrapin.org to sign the on-line petition to stop the harvest.
 
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