FWC delays terrapin breeding rule, budget request passage amid Ian
A mangrove diamondback terrapin makes its move. Image via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Potential breeders and experts outside the industry are split on whether commercializing turtles would help or harm the species.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has canceled meetings set for this week, delaying decisions about setting the 2023-24 budget and a presentation on terrapin breeding that had sparked a mixed public reception.

Before Hurricane Ian started barreling toward Florida, officials were expected to recommend against reopening diamondback terrapins to captive breeding in the state. The species is considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and potential breeders and experts outside the industry are split on whether commercializing turtles would help or harm the species.

Florida closed its diamondback terrapin commercial breeding program in 2006, but some have suggested restarting it could reduce the demand for trafficking. However, an FWC report says many conservationists, law enforcement professionals and turtle experts say it would increase poaching because of the high demand for turtles domestically and globally.

“Given the species’ vulnerable life history traits in Florida, coupled with the potential risk of increased harm to native populations through impacts of collection pressure, demand, and contributing to illicit turtle trade, staff recommends the current rules remain unchanged,” according to FWC staff.

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers Florida (USARK FL) was one organization that submitted a captive breeding proposal. Supporters say captive breeding would provide an alternative to illegally collecting wild terrapins and could help restore wild populations with genetic diversity if ever needed.

“Florida’s turtle breeders are some of the best in the world and would have the ability to produce many thousands of captive-bred terrapins within a few years if allowed to do so,” said USARK FL spokesperson Daniel Parker, who also is a conservation biologist and turtle breeder.

“This program should be regulated to ensure that any turtles sold can be verified as captive-bred offspring and that adult breeder animals are not replaced with wild-caught animals.”

The FWC was also expected to approve its budget request, which is due Oct. 14. Among the requests are priorities to replace vehicles, improve recruitment and retention, enhance law enforcement, and additional resources for python control and manatee population assessments.

The FWC proposed budget would be $276.3 million, the same level of funding for the current fiscal year after Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered $4.9 million in vetoes. Still, this year’s budget is 11% larger than the prior year’s.

FWC is also set to ask the Legislature to pass a law to enhance the penalty for the unlawful purchase, sale, importation or intentional release of venomous reptiles from a second-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

FWC canceled the Saturday meetings over the looming threat of then-Tropical Storm Ian. While the storm appears to be on its way to the Tampa Bay area and Southwest Florida, Miami — where the meetings were to be held on Wednesday and Thursday — is receiving severe weather. Moreover, the meeting was expected to draw public comment from interested parties statewide.

The next FWC meetings are slated for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Panama City.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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