Project Title: Assessing Effects of Commercial Harvest on Aquatic Turtle Populations in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas

Project Need: Commercial harvest of aquatic turtles in Arkansas was historically unregulated. In 2006, new regulations established specific permits for commercial turtle harvest and harvest reporting requirements. From 2004 to 2017, approximately 1.3 million wild aquatic turtles were commercially harvested, of which, 95% were taken in the Mississippi Delta ecoregion. Turtles are sold to meet global demand for use as food, pets, and curatives in folk medicine. At present, 10 species of aquatic turtles (Apalone spinifera, Chelydra serpentina, Chrysemys dorsalis, Graptemys geographica, G. kohnii, G. ouachitensis, Kinosternon subrubrum, Pseudemys concinna, Sternotherus odoratus, and Trachemys scripta) can be legally harvested with no daily or annual bag limits, no size class restrictions, and no specified harvest season(s).

Over the past decade most states have either closed or significantly restricted the commercial harvest of aquatic turtles. This trend continued in 2018 as commercial harvest was closed in Missouri and Texas and greatly restricted in Georgia. As a consequence of these harvest closures it is possible this could increase harvest pressure on Arkansas aquatic turtle populations.

Commercial trapping is conducted in both private and public waters, with the majority of harvest coming from private waters in the Delta. The effect of commercial harvest on aquatic turtle populations in private waters in Arkansas has never been the subject of a rigorous long-term research study. Previous work is limited to a recent Master’s thesis project in northeastern Arkansas rivers. However, this study was inadequate in producing definitive conclusions on commercial harvest impacts on aquatic turtle populations on a broader scale.

Primary Research Objectives: The proposed research project should address the following primary research question by addressing all or parts of the sub-questions:
What is the effect of commercial harvest on population demographics of aquatic turtles in private land aquatic systems (e.g., agricultural ditches, aquaculture ponds, etc.) in the delta region of Arkansas?
What level of harvest is sustainable for each species of turtle?
What is the effect of harvest on size structure?
What are the current population levels for each species of turtle?
What is the habitat availability in the region?

Study Area and Time Frame: The study area will be within the Mississippi Delta ecoregion and sampling sites will be jointly selected by AGFC staff and the researcher in close collaboration with commercial harvesters. Funding would start in 2019 and close December 31, 2021.

Proposal Format, Content and Reporting Due Dates:
Proposal Format: Proposals should adhere to the following format: submitted as Word or PDF files; in 12 point font; and 1 inch margins.
1. Cover Page. A single cover page that provides:
a. Project Title
b. Project Summary (short paragraph describing project objectives, methods, and expected results)
c. Project Leader (name, job title, affiliation, and contact information)
d. Project Partners (name, affiliation, contact information)
e. Project Budget (include total project cost, and total amount requested from AGFC).
2. Project Statement (max. 6 pgs). Required elements should include:
a. Background and Need
b. Project Objectives
c. Proposed Methods
Sampling locations will be determined jointly with AGFC and researcher. An included map page does not count towards page limit
d. Expected Results
Additional pages should be attached that include:
A detailed timeline
Detailed, itemized budget
Literature cited
Brief description of PI’s qualifications, including up to five (5) pertinent peer-reviewed publications.
Report due dates:
Interim annual progress reports including results to date, due on 30 June 2020 and 30 June 2021.
Final project report, to include copies of field notes and raw data, due 31 December 2021.

Specific Researcher Qualifications: The principle investigator (PI) for this study should have demonstrable experience and capability: (1) in executing a large-scale long-term aquatic turtle population sampling study; (2) have adequate personnel and infrastructure capable of conducting the necessary field work; and (3) competence in performing data and spatial analyses and population modeling.

Proposal Review Process: Proposals will be due by 5 PM February 15, 2019. All proposals will be reviewed internally by AGFC staff and externally by subject experts. Researchers will be notified of award decisions no later than March 15, 2019.

Funding Match Requirements: There is no requirement for matching funds, however, indirect costs used as match will be favorably considered.

Proposal Evaluation Criteria:
Can the work be successfully completed during the specified timeframe?
Does the proposal adequately address the scope of this RFP?
Will the proposed work be effective in achieving the objectives and use funds efficiently?
Does the proposed study design and methodology meet standards?
Does the PI meet qualifications and have adequate support organization?

AGFC Project Lead Contact Information:
Kelly Irwin
915 Sevier Street
Benton, AR 72015
P: 877.847.2690 M: 501.539.0431