From Eco Issues Nov.29.2011
In December 2010, the ECO received an application requesting the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)
review the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 (FWCA) to de-list snapping turtles as a “game reptile.” The snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is currently the only species of reptile listed as a “game reptile” in the FWCA , and therefore may be harvested by anyone holding a valid recreational fishing licence in Ontario. However, the snapping turtle is also classified as a species of special concern under both federal and provincial species-at-risk legislation.
Based on the snapping turtle’s life cycle and threats to its longevity, the applicants argued that permitting recreational fish licence holders to harvest two snapping turtles per day threatens the species’ survival in Ontario. They urged the Ontario government to join Quebec and Nova Scotia in prohibiting the hunting of snapping turtles.
In Ontario, snapping turtles primarily are found in the southern part of the province. During nesting season (May-June), females lay up to 50 eggs in nests that are highly susceptible to predators. Only a small percentage of eggs hatch, and hatchlings take 15 to 20 years to reach maturity. Moreover, threats – such as hunting, poaching, persecution, predation, pollution, fish bycatch, and car and boat strikes – all contribute to the decline of snapping turtle populations. Furthermore, the snapping turtle’s range is shrinking due to habitat loss and degradation.
Studies indicate that snapping turtle populations continue to decline in Ontario. Extremely low reproductive success, coupled with a reliance on adult longevity for species survival, means that an increase in mortality as small as 1 per cent over natural rates can affect a population’s continued existence.
MNR denied the EBR application, asserting that it intends to develop a management plan for the snapping turtle by September 2014. MNR stated that there was a low risk of harm to snapping turtles by not conducting the review prior to completing the management plan.
MNR outlined how its “conservative harvest regulations” have reduced pressure on the species. The harvesting of snapping turtles was unregulated until 1990, when snapping turtles were first listed as a “game reptile” under the FWCA . As a result, MNR: instituted a two-turtle daily bag limit; disallowed hunting during nesting months; prohibited hunting in provincial parks; and ended the commercial hunt and sale of snapping turtle meat. For the full text of the ministry’s decision, see our website at www.eco.on.ca.
The ECO disagrees with MNR’s decision to deny this application for review. The ministry should exercise a precautionary approach in accordance with its Statement of Environmental Values and impose a moratorium or ban on the hunting of snapping turtles, at least until after this issue has been properly examined with full public consultation.
The ECO is troubled that MNR’s current “conservative harvest” rates were determined without proper population monitoring, and that MNR is unaware of the number of turtles that are hunted and killed each year. As such, the ECO does not have confidence in MNR’s assertion that its bag limits are sustainable.
Finally, although the ECO appreciates that MNR is required to develop a management plan for snapping turtles, the ECO is concerned that this plan will not be ready to implement before late 2015. In the interim, an unknown number of snapping turtles will continue to be hunted, potentially causing long-term harm to the population. For a more detailed review of this application, please refer to Section 5.6.2 of the Supplement to this Annual Report. For ministry comments, please see Appendix C.