By David Madden

STONE HARBOR, N.J. (CBS) – Environmental officials in New Jersey have put the brakes on the annual harvest of a coastal turtle in the name of preservation.

This is the second straight year the Department of Environmental Protection has stopped the harvest of the northern diamondback terrapin, which is a popular delicacy overseas. Between that and threats in the wild, mainly from man, there are concerns that their numbers are getting low.

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So, what is a northern diamondback terrapin? Well, they live in marsh areas along the coast.

“They feed on a variety of organisms and some of those organisms actually consume the salt marsh,” Brian Williamson, a research scientist at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, told KYW Newsradio. “So by diamondback terrapins existing in the salt marsh and feeding on those organisms, they help keep those organisms in check.”

State officials are taking a cautious approach to the harvest, which began as scheduled in November, and would have ended on March 31st.

“It’s not listed as threatened or endangered at this point,” said Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman. “But we do have harvest pressures that have really put a question mark as to whether or not the harvest is sustainable.”

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Other states have banned the harvest altogether. New Jersey’s working on a long term plan.

Staffers at the Wetlands Institute have tagged some 5 thousand terrapins over the years, but are unsure just how many are still out there.

The state will enforce a 200 dollar replacement fee for every terrapin harvested illegally.



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