The Jersey Shore is filled with diamondback terrapin lovers.

People stop their cars to let them cross the road on their egg-laying excursions - even get out and carry them across.

Environmental activists badgered the state until it required fishing traps to exclude terrapins or provide them an escape hatch.

Volunteers lined many wetlands roads with short fencing to keep the turtles from wandering into danger.

Generations of young children have raised terrapins from salvaged eggs and released them into the back bays and estuaries where they live.

Schoolchildren in Galloway Township who did that twice asked the state to make the diamondback terrapin the state reptile.

Ask any or all of these people what should be done about the news this month that at least 4,300 terrapins were illegally taken from local waters to feed growing demand in Asia to eat them.

The answer, assuredly, would be: Stop it.

The state did that, for the time being, by ending the little-known terrapin harvesting season early.

At the request of the N.J. Marine Fisheries Council, the Department of Environmental Protection on March 2 halted legal terrapin taking that would have continued through the end of the month. The council said the suspension will give it and the DEP time to get "a better understanding of the numbers of harvesters and the number of turtles being harvested."

What's to understand?

There is no legitimate, significant "use" of terrapins here where they live. A century ago people made soup out of them, but then again a century ago people shot and ate hawks. Don't try that today.

The 4,300 poached terrapins were taken to a facility in Maryland. We've allowed out-of-state businesses to exploit our natural resources for ... nothing in return.

The solution is not to suspend the taking of terrapins but to end it.

There are lots of animals in New Jersey that people used to slaughter at will or take as pets, until the state stepped in and declared them nongame animals that can't be killed or taken from the wild.

Another group of students, from Manahawkin's Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, persuaded two area legislators to introduce a bill to give terrapins that same protection enjoyed by songbirds and bats.

In December, Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, both D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, introduced a bill to declare the diamondback terrapin a nongame species - just a valuable part of the wildlife sharing New Jersey with its human residents.

That's the way to go. Let them be part of the unique nature of the Jersey Shore.

And while the Legislature's at it, how about making the terrapin the state reptile? The position is open.

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