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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is considering regulations in response to a petition to end commercial turtle harvest in the state.

The petition was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Scientists and the world's top turtle experts agree that Arkansas needs to ban commercial turtle trapping," said Elise Bennett, a center attorney who focuses on protecting reptiles and amphibians.

The commercial trapping ban will help ensure turtles are swimming through Arkansas' waters for future generations to enjoy."

Arkansas allows commercial trappers to take an unlimited number of 14 varieties of turtle from waters across roughly half the state, including the entirety of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. According to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission harvest report records, 126,381 freshwater turtles were harvested from 2014 to 2016. The majority of these turtles were medium or large in size and likely of breeding age.

Bill Posey, assistant chief of fisheries for the commission, said few harvesters work in Southwest Arkansas.

"There is really none in this area. Most work in the northeast area of the state," Posey said.

The counties of Miller, Columbia, Lafayette and Nevada are open to harvesters.

But Game and Fish herpetologist Kelly Irwin said it's difficult to protect turtles because of natural attacks.

The feral hog population continues to grow and threatens the turtles, which become a food source for the hogs.

Fire ants also attack turtle nesting sites.

Irwin said turtles have been attacked by raccoons.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will accept public comment on the proposed ban until it makes a final decision at an Aug. 16 commission meeting.

Comment letters may be addressed to Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, Attn: Fisheries Division, 2 Natural Resources Drive, Little Rock, AR 72205.

The public can also comment using the center's action alert.

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