Invasive Turtle a Threat to Fish and Biodiversity07 February 2013
PHILIPPINES - Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have expressed alarm over the proliferation of an invasive species of turtle that now threaten Central Luzon’s local fish population and other aquatic animals.
A growing population of the Chinese softshell turtle, with scientific name Pelodiscus sinensis, prompted DENR to create a task force that will look into the animal’s distribution, feeding habits, and reproductive characteristics.
Maximo Dichoso, DENR executive director, said his office received complaints from fishpond owners and operators about the turtle preying on local fish species, and bangus and tilapia fingerlings in fishponds.
“The Chinese softshell turtle has been classified as an invasive alien species introduced in the country in the 90s. So I warn the public the public about propagating or raising the animal as pet,” Dichoso cautioned.
Today, the reptile is considered a threat to local biodiversity and a pest in the multi-million fish industry of Pampanga, Bulacan and Bataan.
Fishermen and fishpond owners from the towns of Arayat, Candaba, San Luis, Minalin, Macabebe and Apalit in Pampanga likened the turtle menace to the “golden kuhol” that wreaked havoc in rice farms during the 80s.
As this developed, DENR ordered a team of biologists and conservation experts to conduct a six-month study to determine the impact of the softshell turtle on the environment and the local fishing industry of the affected provinces, and to identify wildlife management interventions from the government.
“We want to determine the rate of reproduction of this turtle species and come up with a regional policy on the allowable quota for its collection either for food or export,” Dichoso explained, noting that some private individuals have expressed willingness to harvest the turtles for export.
He said strong market demand for turtle meat in China and other Asian countries will open a highly lucrative and viable business opportunity among wildlife collectors in the affected provinces.
But while the turtle poses a threat to local biodiversity, there is also a need to regulate its collection and trade to avoid unnecessary competition among individuals issued with Wildlife Special Use Permit, and to ensure a sustainable turtle population without affecting the local fish industry.
In Pampanga alone, three individuals have been issued permits to collect a combined 36,820 heads of live turtles this year, or about 30,700 kilos of turtle meat.
Last year, 349,170 heads of live turtles, or 236,250 kilos of turtle meat were also harvested.
Dichoso said the DENR welcomes information that would shed light on the range and behavior of the reptile and urged the public to contact their nearest office if there are sightings of the animal or if nesting sites are found.
The Chinese softshell turtle, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), is found in several countries, including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, and Russia where it is considered a “delicacy” and made into turtle soup.
TheFishSite News Desk