“Operation Snapper” Yields Seven Alabama Arrests

Seven Calhoun and Marshall County residents were arrested April 6, 2005, in connection with “Operation Snapper,” a multi-state investigation that documented sales of legal and illegal turtles. It is alleged that these individuals illegally caught and sold turtles from the wild. These subjects were familiar with Alabama regulations regarding size limits and protected turtle species. Approximately 50 people throughout the United States are facing state or federal charges as a result of this investigation.

The sales of over 340 illegal turtles were documented during the 18-month investigation, which involved the Alabama Department of Conservation’s Division Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

The Operation Snapper investigation focused on the illegal interstate commerce of protected turtle species. Each state has laws and regulations concerning the size and types of turtles that may be caught and sold commercially. Alabama regulations specifically prohibit the collection, possession and sale of any common snapping turtle or soft-shell turtle with a length less than eight inches. Regulations also protect various turtle species, such as the box turtle, from commercialization and make it unlawful for any person to take or possess more than 10 legally taken turtles per day on the public waters or banks of the public waters of this state.

Wild turtles caught from Alabama and other states are in high demand at turtle farms and butcher shops in Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida. Turtle farmers stock ponds with wild caught turtles to harvest and incubate the eggs. The hatchling turtles are then sold to buyers in Asia, Europe and the United States. Some of the hatchlings are raised to eat, while others are sold for pets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlawed the sale of turtles with a length less than four inches during the 1970s based on concerns of Salmonella poisoning. Larger turtles are also in demand for meat. The turtles are butchered and the meat is sold for up to $7 per pound.

Turtles are a valuable natural resource and serve an important biological function in the wild. All of the defendants admitted catching every turtle they could find living in an area before they would move to a new location.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.