Diamondback terrapin are a proud symbol of Maryland: a handsome turtle with a white neck spotted with black that is uniquely adapted to swimming in the mix of salty and fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay.
Almost a decade ago, news stories about the sale of thousands of captured ‘terps from an Eastern Shore turtle dealer to brokers to who sold them in China sparked outrage among Maryland legislators, who passed a 2007 law banning the commercial trapping -- and even possession -- of terrapin.
Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, was among those who feared for the turtle’s declining populations.
“Basically the bay’s ecosystems could not produce terrapin at a fast enough rate to satisfy that market demand,” Cover said. “And there was an insatiable demand coming from Asian markets in the years prior to the closing of the commercial fishery.”
But, oddly enough, nine years after the ban, the Eastern Shore turtle breeding and dealing business that triggered the state action is not only still in business, but has more than doubled in size, according to state records.