OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — The owner of a commercial turtle farm allegedly has been illegally shipping wild freshwater turtles out of state for sale to places such as China, U.S. Department of Justice officials said Friday.
Big Lake Fish Farm II owner David Feltenberger, 52, of Okeechobee, was arrested on charges along with employee Chris Craig, 36, of Okeechobee, according to arrest affidavits for charges of illegal sales of wildlife. The charges stem from a federal investigation in which a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer worked undercover to help bring wild freshwater turtles to the Big Lake Fish Farm II.
Two years ago, Florida began allowing farmers to use wild turtles to produce infant turtles that would then be raised commercially for sale. That was done to reduce the commercial over-exploitation of wild freshwater turtles. According to the affidavits, however, Feltenberger was shipping the wild turtles out of the Orlando International Airport and some showed up in Los Angeles, destined for China. The undercover officer put electronic markers on selected turtles to track where they went.
More than 3,000 pounds of turtles were shipped. Feltenberger paid about $20 a turtle to suppliers, documents show.