Florida has banned commercial harvesting of all freshwater turtles within the state. The ban, which took effect on Monday, is described as the most restrictive in the nation by the Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The ban protects not only Florida's endangered turtles, such as the alligator snapping turtle (Macroclemys temminckii), but any turtle that resembles an endangered turtle, like the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), because many species are almost impossible to distinguish from one another. Collection of turtle eggs is also verboten.

As I wrote back in March, the commission recently estimated that 3,000 pounds of softshell turtles are flown out of Tampa International Airport every week, en route to food markets in Asia where they feed a growing, voracious appetite for turtle meat.

The regulations still have a few tiny loopholes. The new rules allow a very small amount of noncommercial turtle harvesting, specifically, one freshwater turtle per day per person. The rules also prohibit transport of any more than one turtle per day per person.

Commercial turtle farms also get two more years, until 2011, to harvest turtles from the wild to restock their farm populations. "Turtle farms, under a tightly controlled process, will be allowed to collect turtles to establish reproduction in captivity so that farms can become self-sustaining to lessen their dependence on collection of turtles from the wild," the Environment News Service reports.

Image: Florida softshell turtle, photo by Kevin Enge. Courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission