Modeling Commercial Freshwater Turtle Production on US Farms for Pet and Meat Markets.
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Freshwater turtles are being exploited for meat, eggs, traditional medicine, and pet trade. As a response, turtle farming became a booming aquaculture industry in the past two decades, specifically in the southeastern states of the United States of America (US) and across Southeast Asia. However, US turtle farms are currently producing turtles only for the pet trade while commercial trappers remain focused on catching the largest individuals from the wild. In our analyses we have created a biological and economic model that describes farming operations on a representative turtle farm in Louisiana. We first modeled current production of hatchling and yearling red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) (i.e., traditional farming) for foreign and domestic pet markets, respectively. We tested the possibility of harvesting adult turtles from the breeding stock for sale to meat markets to enable alternative markets for the farmers, while decreasing the continued pressures on wild populations (i.e., non-traditional farming). Our economic model required current profit requirements of ~$13/turtle or ~$20.31/kg of meat from non-traditional farming in order to acquire the same profit as traditional farming, a value which currently exceeds market values of red-eared sliders. However, increasing competition with Asian turtle farms and decreasing hatchling prices may force the shift in the US toward producing turtles for meat markets. In addition, our model can be modified and applied to more desirable species on the meat market once more knowledge is acquired about species life histories and space requirements under farmed conditions.