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Turtles in the Fishing Pond

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January 7, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about turtles in the fishing pond. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Wes Neal, Mississippi State University Associate Extension Professor. Wes, spring is coming up and the waters are warming up too, and soon turtles will be appearing in some of the pond depths in private ponds and lakes. Are turtles generally a bad thing to have in a recreational fishing pond?

Wes Neal: Good morning, Amy. Well it's funny, because I get a lot of calls every spring and summer about turtles. The reality is that they're really not a big problem for people. People perceive a problem that's just not there. Sure, they'll compete a little bit with your fish in your pond for things like insects and crayfish, but mostly what they're eating is they're scavenging on dead fish, dead animals, plant materials. They'll consume an occasional sick fish, but for the most part they're just helping with water quality and making a healthier fish population. 

Now sure, there are a couple species of turtles such as snapping turtles and softshell turtles that will eat fish. People are concerned that they would hurt their fish populations, but in reality they eat so few fish that they don't make a big difference.

The one time where turtles can be a nuisance is a lot of times they'll learn to eat pelleted food. So if you're feeding your fish, you will see a lot of turtles consuming the food in your pond. They'll also eat natural bait, so you may accidentally catch them when you're catfishing. The one time I've seen them cause an actual problem, though, is when they'll fall down stand pipes that let the water flow out of the pond and block the stand pipe. And then they do cause a problem, but it's really not the turtle's fault. They just tried to get up on the stand pipe and fell in.

Amy Myers: Okay. Should turtles be removed? And if so, how should that be done?

Wes Neal: Well, the short answer is no. Usually it's not a good idea to try to take turtles out of your pond, and it's certainly never a good idea to try to shoot turtles in the pond. A lot of people try to do that. It's not safe. First of all you're shooting a firearm, usually a rifle, at an angle in a pond and you're gonna deal with ricochets. Your neighbors aren't gonna appreciate it. It's also a risk that you shoot an endangered or threatened species. That you may have endangered or threatened species out there. 

But if for some reason you do have a special situation where you think it's absolutely imperative you get the turtles out, really the only answer is trapping and relocating the turtles to another location. Now that's a lot easier said than done. First of all, you need a permit to do it. Second of all, where are you gonna put them once you catch them? That's a problem as well. And if you do actually catch the turtles and you're able to catch them and you want to move them, make sure you tell your local conservation officer, 'cause you certainly don't wanna get pulled over with a truckload of turtles and be accused of the illegal reptile trade.

The other problem is the turtles come right back. I mean, it may not be the same turtles, but other turtles come back. Your pond's a nice place for them to be and they wanna be there, so more turtles will come. And it may actually be illegal to shoot turtles. Just like snakes, they're a protected species and it's not a good idea to kill something that there's not a season for. 

Amy Myers: Okay. So don't shoot turtles. That's definitely important. Isn't releasing turtles elsewhere just moving the problem, though?

Wes Neal: Oh, absolutely. Turtles first of all, if you think about just from the turtle's perspective, you're moving them to a new location. They're totally disoriented. They don't know where to go to find food. They don't know where to loaf and to relax in the sun. They don't know how to hide from predators. So from the turtle's perspective, it's bad for the turtle. You're also probably introducing that turtle into a population, or those turtles into a population that's already at carrying capacity with turtles, so you're increasing the population too high and may cause food to become a problem. You may spread diseases by moving turtles around. And of course you have the problem that you're creating a problem for somebody else. 

Amy Myers: Yes, exactly. We should always be vigilant of not causing problems for other people. So what should a person do with a turtle problem?

Wes Neal: Well, the reality of it is that there's not a whole lot you can do that most people will wanna do. You certainly, if you have a problem with turtles consistently coming into the pond, you can create a turtle barrier around the pond. That's not cheap. It involves building a one to two foot high fence that the turtles can't pass so they can't get into the pond. Most people don't see that as either economically or aesthetically a good idea, because they don't wanna have a fence around their pond like that. The reality of it is, is that most people just need to learn to love the turtles in their pond and understand that they're part of the environment. 

Amy Myers: Right. So that is very important, to learn to adapt and welcome the turtles, because there's a reason that they're there, right?

Wes Neal: Yes. It's a sign of a healthy ecosystem. 

Amy Myers: Oh, well that's really good news. So turtles can be a good thing. Thank you so much. Today we've been speaking with Wes Neal, Mississippi State University Associate Extension Professor. I'm Amy Taylor Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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