How to Report Sales of Baby Water Turtles
The GCTTS is often asked about the sale of small water turtles. It is against federal regulations to sell or offer for sale turtle eggs or live turtles that are smaller than 4 inches in length.
The "4 Inch Law" is actually an FDA regulation and not a law. It was first written in 1975 as a response to the concern about salmonella poisoning resulting from the wholesale distribution of baby water turtles that was occurring at the time.
GCTTS members have discussed this issue, as well as the issue of pet stores maintaining their turtles in deplorable conditions, with representatives from the SPCA, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the FDA.
Texas Parks and Wildlife is not directly involved in the selling of undersized turtles - this is an FDA regulation.
If one sees someone selling undersized turtles, and they report the seller and the seller's address, the FDA will go to that address and investigate in a timely manner. If the store is in violation of the FDA regulation at the time the inspector arrives they will issue fines and require the destruction "in a humane manner" of the turtles. This destruction must be considered in light of the greater number of turtles that will die if the practice continues. About 90% of turtles sold at this size die within the first 6 months of captivity.
There is an exception to the regulation that allows the sale of small turtles for "bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibit purposes, other than use as pets." Many stores operate under this exception, or claim to. They will post a notice that the turtles are being sold for educational purposes. It is difficult to prove otherwise.
Another way that the regulation is skirted is to sell the supplies needed for the turtle (a "turtle bowl", turtle food, and other supplies) and then give the customer the turtle. The FDA has told us that this does not exempt the store from a fine and the destruction of the turtles.
Perhaps the best action that concerned GCTTS members and others can take is to talk to the manager of the mall or flea market (not the store or individual vendor) where small turtles are being sold. Present them with a copy of the FDA regulation and tell them, politely but firmly, that you will report the store to the FDA if the practice continues for more than a week. Point out to them that the mall or flea market, as well as the store or vendor, may be subject to fines and other penalties. Leave a copy of the FDA regulation with the manager and be sure to get their name.
It may be useful to identify yourself as a member of the GCTTS or other group concerned with the well being of these animals. If you let us know of the situation other GCTTS members may be able to pay the manager a visit as well, putting more pressure on them to stop the illegal selling.
One advantage of this approach is that the turtles aren't necessarily killed. Hopefully the store or vendor will take the opportunity to sell his stock and move on to selling something less controversial.
If the practice continues, be sure to follow up with a report to the FDA.