News Release: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
July 14, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Three Lakeland men and an Okeechobee freshwater turtle farmer were caught illegally harvesting, selling and buying wild-caught freshwater turtles as a result of a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation.
“Turtles are a popular, commercially available food item throughout much of the world and, as a result, overharvest has occurred in many countries,” said the FWC’s Lt. George Wilson, who led the effort. “To prevent overharvest here, the FWC proactively banned commercial harvest of all native wild turtles in 2009,” Wilson said.
Wilson and other FWC investigators throughout Polk and Seminole counties developed the case over a three-and-a-half-month period after the March 21 arrest of My Van Vo. Van Vo was caught by FWC officers on Lake Apopka in possession of 87 live softshell turtles weighing in excess of 500 pounds.
Subsequently, FWC investigators learned two other Lakeland men were poaching freshwater turtles on Lake Marion, Lake Haines, Crooked Lake and Lake Walk-In-Water as well as from the St. Johns River. The two men were transporting and selling their illegal catch to Harden and Son’s Turtle Farm in Okeechobee.
The three men were known to be involved in the illegal capture and exchange of a total of 2,100 pounds of live turtles.
“We hope our efforts to protect wild turtle populations help ensure everyone has the opportunity to see freshwater turtles in the wild and harvest them recreationally,” Wilson said.
The FWC worked with the State Attorney’s Office in Florida’s 19th Judicial Circuit to charge Canh Van Nguyen and Lieng Su Pham with two felonies and four misdemeanors.
The owner of the turtle farm, Franklin Gene Harden, was charged with three felonies and four misdemeanors.