Invasive Chinese turtle species threatens fish in Central Luzon

By Ding Cervantes, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 06 2013 07:36 AM | Updated as of Feb 06 2013 03:36 PM

SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga, Philippines — An invasive Chinese turtle species is threatening the fish population in Central Luzon.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office here yesterday said they have received complaints from fishpond owners and operators about the growing population of the Chinese softshell turtle, scientifically named Pelodiscus sinensis, which had been preying on local fish species, and bangus and tilapia fingerlings.

“The Chinese softshell turtle has been classified as an invasive alien species (IAS) introduced in the country in the ‘90s,” said Maximo Dichoso, executive director of the DENR in Central Luzon.

Dichoso warned the public against propagating or raising the animal as pet, citing that the reptile is considered “a threat to local biodiversity and a pest in the multimillion-peso fishing industries of Pampanga, Bulacan and Bataan.”

Arthur Salazar, DENR’s deputy director for protected areas, wildlife and coastal zone management service, said that fishermen and fishpond owners from the towns of Arayat, Candaba, San Luis, Minalin, Macabebe and Apalit in Pampanga likened the turtle menace to the ‘golden kuhol’ that wreaked havoc on rice farms during the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the DENR has created a task force composed of biologists and conservation experts that will conduct a six-month study to determine the impact of the Chinese softshell turtle on the environment and the local fishing industry of the affected provinces.

“We want to determine the rate of reproduction of this turtle species and come up with a regional policy on the allowable quota for its collection either for food or export,” Dichoso said, noting that some private individuals have expressed willingness to “harvest” the turtles for export.

He said strong market demand for turtle meat in China and other Asian countries will open a highly lucrative and viable business opportunity among wildlife collectors in the affected provinces.

“While the reptile poses a threat to local biodiversity, there is also a need to regulate its collection and trade to avoid unnecessary competition among individuals issued with Wildlife Special Use Permit, and to ensure a sustainable turtle population without affecting the local fish industry,” Dichoso said.