Terrapin turtle gathering season closed Monday, four weeks early, to help protect the species' shrinking numbers from overharvesting.

Happy Turtle

The diamondback-clad animal is the only turtle species living in the brackish waters of New Jersey's coastal marshes and estuaries, and a popular element in Asian food markets. Last year over 3,500 were taken from South Jersey to be sold abroad by an out-of-state facility, according to My Fox NY.

Although they were once abundant along the Jersey shore, their population has declined overall since the 1930s due to habitat loss, crab traps, the food industry, and being hit by vehicles.

A $200 fine for every turtle illegally gathered hasn't stopped people from taking the turtles, though. Conservation officials recently prevented 800 terrapins from illegal harvesting, according to the Asbury Park Press.

A bill pending in the state legiusltature would outlaw the catching and removing of wild terrapins and extend protection of the animals beyond 2015 if passed.

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