Pa. man pleads guilty to trafficking prized turtles

A diamondback terrapin turtle. (Big Stock)

A diamondback terrapin turtle. (Big Stock)

Pennsylvania man has pleaded guilty to trafficking protected turtles.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania says David Sommers on Monday admitted to sending a package to Canada in 2014 containing 11 diamondback terrapin hatchlings.

Sommers pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the Lacey Act and agreed to forfeit nearly 3,500 diamondback terrapin hatchlings that authorities say he poached from coastal marshes in New Jersey. The Lacey Act bans trade in illegally obtained wildlife, fish and plants.

As part of the agreement, prosecutors will drop the remaining charges against him at his sentencing on May 15. He faces up to five years in prison.

Terrapins are a native New Jersey turtle prized in the reptile pet trade for their unique shell markings. The turtles are protected under New Jersey law and by an international treaty.

The New Jersey hunting and harvesting prohibition, signed into law in 2016, came in response to an incident involving a massive amount of diamondback terrapins harvested in the state.

In 2013, a harvester used a commercial crabbing dredge to take more than 3,500 from two locations in South Jersey and sell to an aquaculture facility in Maryland, which an investigation revealed used the catch to raise 14,000 terrapins for sale to overseas markets.

They also face numerous other challenges, including predation, habitat loss, drowning in crab traps, becoming pets, and getting struck by cars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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